by guest blogger Coach Mark Smallwood, executive director at Rodale Institute
What do Cheerios and apples have in common? They are the latest and very public battlegrounds for the GMO debate. But these two mainstays of American childhood nutrition are headed in opposite directions: While the Arctic apple, genetically modified to not brown when it's cut, is all but set to be approved for production; original Cheerios is now GMO free. And while the general public is wholeheartedly in support of knowing what is in its food, shoppers are still confused as to what all the labels really mean.
Now some of the very groups who dumped millions into defeating state GMO labeling laws across the country have changed tack and are pushing for a national GMO labeling law; one that requires labels only on GMOs "proved" to cause health problems. The problem? Patents and "intellectual property" laws not only severely restrict how GMOs can be researched, but also have provided an easy way for the companies to discredit study results they don't like.
While food and seed giants figure out how to take the teeth out of GMO labeling laws before they even happen, there is good news for the more than 90 percent of American consumers who want to know whether or not something contains GMOs: We already have a label.
Certified-organic farmers and food producers can't use GMOs. Ever. And there are strict regulations in place for certified-organic producers to avoid GMO contamination, including testing. As Melody Meyer, vice president of policy and industry relations at United Natural Foods, Inc., and a Rodale Institute business member, explained recently, "In November 2012, the NOP clarified through formal rule making that testing for prohibited residues in organic products, including GMOs, MUST occur periodically (on an annual basis), and that certifiers must investigate and issue noncompliance notices accordingly to organic operations that fail to meet the requirement."
In Search of Healthy Food
GMOs are also only one aspect of a toxic food system. Simply choosing non-GMO does not make for healthy food. In the past five years, The American Academy of Pediatrics, the President's Cancer Panel, and physicians nationwide have publicly advised us all, especially children and pregnant women, to reduce our dietary exposure to synthetic pesticides.
While debate rages on over the "safety" of GMOs, consumers who want to avoid the toxic pesticides and herbicides proven to have negative impacts on our health and wellness (which we're already carrying around in our bodies) should remember: We already have a label.
Certified-organic farmers are required to start with good design and good management to avoid pest problems in the first place, using naturally derived products only as a last resort. The focus is on creating a healthy balance on the farm.
Organic Is Non-GMO and So Much More
The label isn't new or sexy, but it is proven and trustworthy. Organic farming is the most regulated kind of farming out there. And organic farms are third-party verified; not only to ensure what they aren't doing (such as using prohibited materials and practices), but also to ensure they are actually being good stewards of the land and water on which we all rely.
By all means, recognize and support the incredible work that non-GMO groups are doing nationwide (we do) and rally around GMO labeling (we are). But if you really want to take down the GMO giants, champion the organic farmer.
Maria Rodale recently said, "The number one thing that changes minds is when [conventional farmers] see an organic farm that works." Members of Rodale Institute's Heritage Society can provide critical support preserving the heritage of agriculture in our nation while promoting and supporting the efforts of the modern organic farmer.
Organic farmers are changing the very makeup of our agricultural landscape for the better, and their label reads "USDA Organic."
"Coach" Mark Smallwood has been dedicated to environmental sustainability, efficiency, and conservation for decades. Since joining Rodale Institute in December 2010, he has brought heritage livestock back to the institute's 333-acre farm, expanded and enhanced its research efforts, and launched "Your 2 Cents," a national campaign to support and promote new organic farmers. In recognition for his sustainability efforts, Coach was chosen as a messenger for Al Gore's Climate Project, presenting to more than 15,000 people on the effects of global warming. Last, but certainly not least, as a longtime organic farmer and biodynamic gardener, Coach has raised chickens, goats, sheep, and pigs and driven a team of oxen.
For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com