GMOs and The Monsanto Protection Act: Our Take

This is a guest post by my husband, Jason Leake. To learn more about Jason check out our team page.


There’s been a flurry of reports circulating the internet about the so called “Monsanto Protection Act,” so this is a good time to weigh in with our thoughts on GMOs in general and to hopefully clear up some confusion in the process.

Indian farmers protest GMO corn
Indian farmers protest GMO Corn
(image from La Via Campesina)

As we’ve learned firsthand from Lisa and Vani’s recent intense media coverage around the Kraft petition, a lot can get lost in the telephone game (for example Vani is NOT a mom, the referenced food dyes are not actually banned and instead require a warning label in the UK, etc.), and so it is always advisable to do your own digging when you read a story. Over time you’ll determine trusted sources, but it’s never a bad idea to cross-check the facts.

Today’s post is by no means meant to be the ultimate resource on GMOs, chock full of references and counterpoints, but I do want to provide an opinion about them and the “Monsanto Protection Act” based on my experience, reading, and immersion in the food world. Spoiler alert: There’s an interesting link between Kraft and the Monsanto Protection Act.

Sponsor Shoutout

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GMOs Defined

From the nonGMOproject.org website:

GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.

What this means: Pesticides are bred right into the seed of some GMO crops (as opposed to spraying the plants to ward off pests). In other cases the plants are modified to survive being sprayed with the chemical weed killer Roundup (which means more Roundup sales for Monsanto).

Genetic modification is different than selective breeding. This is explained in further detail on page 9-10 of this GMO Myths and Truths document.

GMO Crop Picture

Nature Is Amazing, and Complicated

The other day I caught a fascinating science story on NPR. Apparently some plants show altruistic behavior to their siblings (as opposed to ‘strangers’ of the same species). Wow. How do the plants identify and communicate with one another? What other examples may exist of this behavior? I am definitely a fan of science (it was my favorite subject growing up and I have Bachelor of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering), and one thing that amazes me so much is that the deeper we investigate, the more questions form and the more information is uncovered. For example, the discovery of atoms was pretty cool…the building blocks of matter, right? Oh wait, there are sub-atomic particles. Now we are just discovering the role our gut micro-biome may have in our immune system, which could unlock a whole new world of understanding about disease. Check out this related article in the New York Times.

Scientists are regularly blown away by the complexity, power, and sheer number of microbes that live in our bodies. – Carl Zimmer for the New York Times

The point is that nature is incredibly complex, and while I am all for advancements in science, it is arrogant and misguided to think we “have it all figured out” and can start breaking the rules of nature with GMOs. Time and time and time again we see fallout from our interference with nature in the way of unintended consequences. Here are but a few examples:

  • Inorganic arsenic showing up in rice (because, oh yeah, the FDA used to allow arsenic in pesticides and currently allows arsenic in chicken feed that turns into crop fertilizer at the other end of the chicken).
  • Herbicide resistant super-weeds evolving due to the high application rates of RoundUp weed killer (made by Monsanto) on GMO (and “Roundup Ready”) crops.
  • Bee populations (nature’s pollinators) rapidly diminishing and therefore negatively impacting plant production due to pesticides.

Does this mean technology is inherently bad? Of course not. But we need to slow down and allow adequate time for long-term GMO testing, and to not do anything that results in an irreversible widespread change to our food supply (kind of important, don’t you think?).

I see science as the pursuit of truth and discovery, and this is why I love it. The facts are what they are. But it’s also worth noting that industry funded science often gets manipulated, mainly through the funding of specific studies (that stand to benefit the industry or company footing the bill) while not funding others (that would harm the business interests), modifying the research parameters, and so on.

Precautionary Principle vs. Massive Experiment

So are GMOs really causing allergies, disease, super-weeds, increased use of pesticides and herbicides and so on? Honestly I don’t know, but since these concerns are very real possibilities and since GMOs are avoidable (although this is getting more and more difficult over time), I prefer to take the precautionary approach. This is synonymous with our personal decision to cut out processed foods. Case in point, the processed food industry will isolate an ingredient for testing and report a clean bill of health. However, they do not (and cannot possibly) test the combined effects of all the different combinations of the chemicals and food additives contained in their products (see soda recall). Why roll the dice? Personally I’d rather be on the safe side and avoid most products with food additives. I have confidence in eating the real, whole foods that have been consumed for thousands of years. The collective knowledge of food culture tells us what foods we can and cannot eat and the best combinations of them.

It’s interesting to note that many other countries – unlike the US – take the precautionary approach, where food must be proven safe before it can enter the food supply. In the US, it’s innocent until proven guilty. I’d rather not take part in a massive experiment with our food supply that could result in no way to backtrack to where we were. Mess with nature and you can get burned.

Labeling is Key

If we look back just three years, Lisa and I had no idea what a GMO was. Heck Lisa didn’t even read ingredient labels. A lot of people in America are that way, because they assume that everything on the grocery store shelf is safe and that the government will do right by its people. So education and TRUTHFUL LABELING are mission critical. Why are Monsanto, DuPont and the processed food industry fighting labeling of GMOs? Obviously that would be the kiss of death for the sales of products containing them. It’s interesting that these companies lobbied the FDA to deem GMO products equivalent to their natural counterparts, yet they are so different that they fought to have them patented so the seed companies could reap billions. Um, can you say hypocritical? Anyway, not everyone believes GMOs are risky, but we all deserve the right to know what we are feeding our families. The takeaway here is that LABELING IS KEY so consumers are empowered to make their own educated decisions.

just_label_it

The Monsanto Protection Act

This Politico story is by far the best article I’ve come across about the “Monsanto Protection Act,” which is actually part of the recently passed H.R. 933 bill, a continuing resolution spending bill. Please read the Politico story as I am not going to restate its contents here, but I will share the gist below. Many other articles I came across suffer from exaggerations. Senator Roy Blunt, who helped craft the bill and represents Missouri (where Monsanto is headquartered) is a strong ally of Monsanto. Here is his summary of the Monsanto Protection Act:

What it says is if you plant a crop that is legal to plant when you plant it, you get to harvest it, but it is only a one year protection in that bill. – Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

Prior to the passage of the bill, a farmer could be ordered not to harvest a GMO crop if its safety was being questioned in court. Senator Blunt is married to Abigail Perlman Blunt, who is currently a lobbyist for Kraft Foods (who spent almost $2 million to fight labeling of GMOs) and formerly a lobbyist for Philip Morris.


Our Take

If you look at the Monsanto Protection Act on its own it sounds somewhat reasonable. Those crazy food activists are always trying to obstruct progress with (sometimes) frivolous lawsuits, and it doesn’t make sense for a farmer to be exposed to the risk of destroying an entire year’s crop if a legal battle ensues. The act gives them protection so they can feel comfortable planting that crop in the first place (with GMO seeds) knowing they can harvest it. But therein lies the problem in my eyes. If a product is so controversial that there is a legitimate risk a court battle could halt the growing and harvesting of a crop to protect the safety of our nation’s people, I WANT the farmers to have to assess that risk when they make the decision to plant GMO seeds.

And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the more I learn about the power and persistent, methodical efforts of Monsanto, DuPont, and their supporters to steamroll the path to monopolizing our food supply, the more I see them as the enemy. As in they do not deserve to have each battle looked at individually for merit. As in their efforts are so strong, the money so great, and their influence on our government so overwhelming that the only choice is to fight for every inch of ground and to say NO every step of the way. Again I feel we are on a one-way street and need to slow the hell down.

4/9/12 Update: I just came across an old, but excellent article that so happens to sum up my concerns quite well. It is called “Playing God in the Garden,” by Michael Pollan.

What You Can Do

If you agree that GMOs should be avoided and should not pervade our food supply, here are some things you can do:

NonGMOProject

  1. Avoid processed foods.
  2. Buy organic or “non-GMO” labeled food when possible.
  3. Read up on the subject
  4. Familiarize yourself with the most common GMO foods and avoid (or buy organic versions of) of these foods and products containing them. Beware, corn and soy are in almost all processed foods, and 88% of corn and 93% of soybeans produced in the US are GMO. The ShopNoGMO smartphone app can help while shopping. Here are the most common GMO crops in the US:app_store
    • Corn, Soybeans, Canola, Cottonseed, Sugar Beets, Hawaiian Papaya
    • Sugar containing sugar beets (which is common unless it’s labeled “pure cane sugar”)
    • Dairy: Products may be from cows injected with GM bovine growth hormones
  5. This is a personal choice, but you may wish to vote with your dollars and boycott companies that fund opposition to GMO labeling laws.
  6. Take political action if you are so inclined. Support GMO labeling. Good starting points are JustLabelIt.org and the non-GMO Project’s Get Involved page.
  7. Dispel common myths, which tend to discredit you when you go to share info. For example there is currently NO GMO WHEAT SOLD IN THE US.
  8. Share this information with those you care about. You can share this post on Facebook, via email, word of mouth, or through scores of other options using the green “Share This” button below.

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92 thoughts on “GMOs and The Monsanto Protection Act: Our Take”

  1. Thank you ! Information is power . I choose real food and I don’t want to play Russian roulette with my families health.

  2. Stumbled upon your blog post today. Great article! I recently delved into this issue and discovered a couple great apps that make avoiding GMOs even easier.

    1) ipitt, which allows you to scan barcodes instead of manually searching for non-GMO products & suggests GMO-free alternatives.

    2) My personal favorite, Buycott, which allows you to scan a barcode, see the entire family tree of the company that produces the product (i.e. the fact that General Mills owns Cascadian Farms etc.), and the exact dollar amount those parent companies have donated to anti-GMO labeling campaigns. You can then decide to ‘vote’ with your money and choose not to purchase those products.

    Thought you and your readers might be interested!

  3. I tried getting the “ShopNoGMO” app on my phone but it said it isn’t available in the US. What a bummer, that would be helpful! Hopefully soon it will be available here… This was an interesting/informational article. Thank you!

  4. Wife of a Farmer

    I fully respect your right to express your opinion, and your choice in how you live your life. I also have the same rights. I want to express the fact that 98% of farms in the United States are family owned. So “BIG AG” is a misnomer. Also I find that it sounds very ignorant to think that we the farmers would knowingly grow and harvest a crop that is so “bad” for us that we ourselves, and our families will consume. I want my family to be healthy, I want them to eat right. I have heard some say it is because the farmer is ignorant of the true effects or doesn’t understand. This is also untrue. Most farmers are intelligent. They have to be so to stay on top of all the advancements such as the GPS systems, crop mapping, etc. My husband has 3 degrees all in the field of agriculture, and still attends educational courses to better himself.
    Also, since the expectation is for us to feed the world, it is impossible with out GMO’s. If it wasn’t for the advancements many people in the cities of our country would be starving. The encroachment on farmable ground leads to decreased area to use for producing our food. There fore we have to grow a crop that can produce more on less. My recommendation is for a “grow for yourself” society. This would eliminate the need for the highly processed foods that you are against. In turn it also eliminates the need for GMO’s.(just a personal soap box)
    As far as Monsanto is concerned. I have to say we aren’t big fans, we personally don’t grow corn. We don’t like the domination of the market. But I feel we can’t allow our vision of GMO’s to be blurred just because of companies like Monsanto.
    Personally I don’t have a problem with GMO’s. I have a hard time seeing the difference between that, and doctors growing body tissue, or taking a chemically created medicine for some disorder we have. I am more inclined to be concerned about taking a medication than eating corn.
    I don’t mean any disrespect or to incite arguments, I just felt the need to encourage people to think of the families that are raising the crops that become the meals on your table. The same thing is on ours. Farming isn’t just about making money, it’s a completely different lifestyle.

  5. Also, keeping the topic of GMO’s politics-free is impossible. The two go hand in hand. If you don’t want to hear politics then you don’t want to discus GMO’s, because it will come up. Maybe you should go read a nice romance novel or sitcom. Leave the things that matter to people who care.

  6. For those who are “pro-GMO”, and consider yourself “science literate” yet you ask why GMO’s and organic crops can’t live in harmony together. Hmmm… Maybe you try a little research. This world-dominating business, Monsanto, can, and has sued farmers not affiliated with Monsanto for having GMO seeds blown into their fields and growing on their land. This company doesn’t want organics to live in harmony with their genetically tampered garbage. They want to rule the world and I am not fine with that. And you people can whine about paying for labeling and whine about those of us who understand the repercussions of messing with nature, out here creating a fight for our lives. But we aren’t going away. In fact, more and more people are waking up everyday, and I’m happy to say I’m helping make that happen.

  7. I have heard that GMO produce is labeled by groceries with numbers starting with an 8 – like organic produce starts with a 9 and regular produce starts with a 4. Can anyone confirm that is correct?

    1. Erin – PLU (price look up) codes are 5 digits. They start with a 9 for organic produce, and although the leading 8 was reserved for GMOs, no one uses them and therefore this is not at all an effective indicator. Conventional produce technically starts with a 0, but this is usually omitted, leaving a 4 digit code. To my knowledge most conventional codes used thus far are in the 3000-4000 range. So in my experience, a 9 means organic and a 4 means conventional. You won’t see an 8.

  8. I researched all the brands that the companies who contributed to defeating the labeling act and I can’t figure out how to avoid them all. Muir Glen, Cascadian Farms, etc. even if I never step foot in a conventional grocery store I can’t avoid them all. I know your wife frequently mentions triscuits crackers on your blog but they’re owned by a contributor too. Gold Medal flour is too. I’m just curious about where you draw the line. As a two parent working family with high daycare costs we have neither the time or money to avoid every single item. I haveno idea what to do.

    1. Jessica – Our focus is not activism, but rather helping average families cut out processed foods. This certainly does not preclude us from sharing our stance on issues (a LOT of people were asking about the Monsanto Protection Act, which is why I wrote this blog post), or from becoming more active in the future, but again, that’s not our focus on the blog or in our personal lives. We vote with our dollars by avoiding most processed foods and buying local, organic, and non-GMO when possible/reasonable. But we don’t take it as far as boycotting brands or parent companies that oppose labeling laws (as I mentioned in the post, that is a personal choice). Just figuring out how to navigate the grocery store aisles, read ingredient labels, and improve cooking skills is enough to challenge most people. So much to the criticism of some of our readers, we regularly buy Laura Bars, which are non-GMO but owned by General Mills, which spent $1.1 million to oppose proposition 37, even though we’d love to see GMOs labeled to make it easy for people to avoid them if they so choose. Just being real.

      Regarding Triscuits, we actually very rarely purchase them anymore, but this is mainly because since our 100 Day Pledge we’ve started avoiding refined oils when possible. While Triscuits are definitely a much better choice than many other processed crackers, I need to go back and update those posts with a suggestion to consider Ak-Mak crackers instead, which is what we buy on a regular basis now.

      And to your point about having no idea what to do, I say don’t stress yourself out. Decide what core changes are important to you and focus on those. Embrace the 80/20 rule, which states that “for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.” During our 100 Day Pledge we were aware of GMOs but were not focused on avoiding them (although we did take solace that the organic items we purchased were GMO free). After literally a few years of defining our new normal and changing our habits, we now have the bandwidth to put more effort into avoiding them (as a precautionary stance), but are still not pre-occupied with avoiding them at all costs.

  9. I read your article and, frankly, I am very angry! If a farmer plants a crop and he is then told that he has to destroy that crop because somebody is complaining about genetically modified food then not only does that farmer lose money but there’s all that food that goes to waste! There are over 300 million people in America and 7 billion people worldwide: we can’t afford to waste food! There are millions of people starving right now in third world countries! It’s one thing to say you don’t want to eat processed food but it is an altogether more serious matter when you contribute to world hunger by having American crops destroyed! This is why the rest of the world hates America: it is the sheer arrogance of people saying that their way of life should be imposed on the rest of the world whether it benefits people in other countries or not!

    1. It’s about the bigger picture…as I said I’d prefer the farmer actually having to assess the risk of growing GMO crops. There are many reasons the rest of the world hates Americans (but that topic is not appropriate for this blog), including trying to push GMO crops on them.

      “the problem is that by preemptively exempting Monsanto from any future litigation, you have effectively given them a blank pass, which could lead them to act more recklessly than they otherwise would.” from http://agcompetitiveness.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-so-called-monsanto-protection-act.html.

      Some starving people won’t even accept GMO crops as aid:

      http://faculty.washington.edu/jhannah/geog270aut07/readings/GreenGeneRevolutions/Zerbe%20-%20GMOs%20in%20food%20aid.pdf

      By situating the decision to send genetically modified maize to Southern Africa in the con-text of US–European debates over agricultural biotechnology, it becomes clear that the pro-motion of biotechnology has nothing to do with ending hunger in the region. Indeed,American food aid shipments to Southern Africa have little to do with the famine at all. Instead, I argue that US food aid policy following the 2002 crisis was intended to promote the adoption of biotech crops in Southern Africa, expanding the market access and control of transnational corporations and undermining local smallholder production thereby fostering greater food insecurity on the Continent.

      http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/06/haitian-farmers-burn-monsanto-hybrid-seeds/#.UWGNiIIyEeM

      The Peasant Movement of Papay, a group of Haitian farmers, has committed to burning 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn and vegetable seeds donated by Monsanto in the wake of the devastating earthquake earlier this year. Peasant Movement of Papay leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste called Monsanto’s donation “a new earthquake” and called for a march to protest the corporation’s presence in Haiti for World Environment Day. The National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay sent an open letter on May 14 signed by Jean-Baptiste. The letter called Monsanto’s presence in Haiti, “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds…, and on what is left of our environment in Haiti.”

      1. Critical Reader

        You oppose Monsanto. Fine. You oppose the “Monsanto Protection Act”. Fine. You want to have all GMOs gone, not for health or safety reasons, but because you want to get rid of Monsanto & Big AG in general and you want to use me as your pawn. Not okay. Your fighting tool is to get Monsanto out of business by introducing warning labels which I (NOT you, because you anyway don’t buy GMO-food) have to pay for. That’s ridiculous. I don’t like labeling initiatives with an agenda in mind. A labeling initiative that has the goal to purely inform people – I am with it. But Prop37 was initiated by organic growers who required labelings for others while conveniently excluding themselves. They even had the audacity to try to secure the high-seller term “natural” with Prop37 for themselves. Um, can you say hypocritical?

        Jason, fight your fight against Monsanto, unfair politics, etc. – but keep me as a supporter of green biotechnology and consumer of GMO-food out of the game. I am not willing to pay for your fight. Thanks to food activists, as somebody who is almost exclusively home-cooking I do not have the chance to take advantage of the potential benefits of GE. Due to the enormous costs of regulatory compliance, small companies and non-profit research organizations are already out of the game. Big AG has the focus on the large crops (canola, corn, cotton, etc.) ony and don’t even bother to improve the fruits and vegetables I consume.

        I consider myself as scientific literate. I know how to read food labels and I made for myself a pro-GMO decision. I like some aspects of organic farming too, and I would love to see a combination of GE and organic farming. I also accept somebody’s decision to not eat GMOs. But why is it, that you food activists don’t have the same level of tolerance towards us? Why can’t GMO and non-GMO crops exist next to each other?

        I don’t know how opposing poor countries are to food shipments from the US. But do you really think there would be any difference towards the anti-American attitude if GMOs were removed? I have my doubts… BTW, at least in the non-profit part of plant research, any patented technology is available for free for developing countries (I don’t know if companies have a similar policy).

      2. If there are starving people who won’t accept GM food (which is extremely unlikely) it would be because they are misinformed by people like you who tell them that GM food is dangerous. It isn’t. On the contrary, organic food is more dangerous because natural fertilizer contains bacteria such as the E-coli that killed people in Germany recently.

  10. Critical Reader

    Former anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas recently apologized for starting the anti-GMO movement in Europe in the 1990s. He changed his mind, because he finally learned about the science behind GMOs. He says “… in 2008 I was still penning screeds in the Guardian attacking the science of GM – even though I had done no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding. I don’t think I’d ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science at this late stage.” I think that sentence applies to yourself and to the majority of the readers of this blog.

    Mark Lynas’ excellent talk can be found here and I would recommend everybody to listen to it:
    http://www.marklynas.org/2013/01/lecture-to-oxford-farming-conference-3-january-2013/

    Jason, although you say you love science it is quite astounding that so far you have entirely ignored the scientific part of the story. You reference Robyn O’Brien, Michael Pollan, Jeffery Smith & Co – those people are activists, who never bothered to understand the science of what they are opposing to. They make money by selling you books and movies and use scare tactics, random correlations and exaggerations to drive up sales.

    I do not want you to changed your mind about GMOs, I just want you to understand the science behind it, before you start influencing others. One of the most entertaining ways to learn about GMOs is probably to read and listen to Kevin Folta, a plant scientist at a non-profit research organization. Interviews with him are here:

    http://www.podcast.veganchicago.com/podcasts/Vegan_Chicago_001_Kevin_Folta.mp3
    http://randomrationality.com/2013/03/18/qa-the-lowdown-on-gmos-with-kevin-folta/
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/07/genetically-modified-food_n_1690653.html

    A book recommendation:
    Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food by Pamela Ronald

    A list of published peer-reviewed articles on GMOs:
    http://www.biofortified.org/

    And many, many more

  11. Thank you so much for all of the info you share. Food is such a complicated topic nowadays, when it really should be simple and whole. I sincerely appreciate the info your family shares to help us weed through all the junk!

  12. I personally am very concerned about GMOs. Have you looked into eugenics? Please look it up sometime if you have never heard of it. “Eugenics is the applied science of the bio-social movement which advocates practices to improve the genetic composition of a population, usually a human population. It is a social philosophy advocating the improvement of human hereditary traits through the promotion of higher reproduction of more desired people and traits, and reduced reproduction of less desired people and traits.” (definition from wikipedia) Rich/educated eat organics – while the poor/uneducated eat what they can afford which unfortunately is usually cheap processed foods. All these processed foods with chemicals added and loaded with GMOs appear to be leading to health issues ranging from minor to very serious including failure to reproduce. Could this all be about population control? It’s sick to think how deep this could really be. :-(

    1. I definitely think there is something to what you are saying Kay! Thanks to 100 Days of Real Food for providing this valuable information to those of us who were formerly ignorant! I love your blog.

      Jill

  13. It is interesting that you are showing the link of these lobbyists to Mitt Romney and the Republican campaign when it is President Obama who signed the protection act.

    1. Good point! I find it unnecessary to politicize your opinion on GMO’s and GE’s. You can most certainly make the link between Senator Blunt and Monsanto but it takes more than one senator to get a bill passed. If you really wanted to be accurate, you should have showed a nice diagram of how Democratic Senator Mikulski, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, even allowed such a provision to get into the bill. And another step showing every Democratic senator voting for the bill. And of course the final step in the diagram can show Democratic President Obama signing the bill into law. I think you guys do a great job educating your readers on the benefits of real food and the hidden dangers of processed foods and wish you could keep politics out of the discussion. Thanks and keep up the great work!

      1. Michael – We do keep politics out of the blog; we are independents and do not vote along party lines. You are reading into something that isn’t there…as I mentioned in my reply above the infographic (which I did not create) was shared to show the link to Kraft and Philip Morris. The Politico article I recommended people read tells more about all the players and what went into passing the bill.

  14. In response to Michelle Mincey’s question and Jason’s reply, I want to state that in my eyes, in some ways you are both right. Wheat is modified, not as to the standards of modern genetic engineering. The modifications wheat has received in the mid 1900s early forms per se’ of GE and used very “unstable” methods as brought to light by the author of Wheat Belly. While it is true that wheat isn’t purely a modern GMO, I do take seriously the claims made by this doctor. According to this author and doctor, wheat has been modified over the last 50 or so decades, and his claims are that people who cut out modern wheat have lost 30, 50, 100 pounds or more and considers it a “perfect, chronic poison.” I further offer this resource, http://sustainableseedco.com/wheat/ as a starting point if anyone reading this wishes to know a bit more on this topic.
    I look forward in earnest to the post addressing this concern on 100 Days site as I consider you very serious foodies wish a passion for the purest foods. Thank you so much for all you are doing and I sincerely appreciated this post and all the work your family is doing at 100 Days of Real Foods! Sincerely, Sherra

    1. To present the other side, the weight loss from “giving up wheat” (and other carbs as the author encourages) is more likely from the decrease in calories. When we lose weight, we feel better. Hence people have given up wheat, lost weight as a result of decreased calories, and automatically think the wheat must have been the cause of all their ills. The truth is that there is no real science (ie. peer-reviewed research) even linking wheat alone to ailments and disease, unless you have Celiacs or gluten allergy/sensitivity. It should also be mentioned that this author additionally supports limiting all carbohydrates to lose weight, even fruit and legumes. My opinion is that the author is jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon to sell a book. One thing I love about this blog is that the authors provide a sensible approach to include all foods in their whole, minimally processed form rather than demonizing one specific food or food group, which is why I think they have such a huge following.

  15. Elizabeth Malayter

    Good post, thanks for all you do. We need to stand together against these huge corporations who are not in the least interested in the health or welfare of the majority of Americans. How weird that the Kraft lobbyist should be married to the senator from Missouri who sponsored the bill! Keep up the good work.

  16. My son is allergic to soy so we use canola oil for cooking. I had no idea it was a GMO food. What could I use instead that would be safe? He’s allergic to milk, soy, peanuts and tree nuts.

    1. I use sunflower oil, safflower and coconut oil instead of canola. I have recently seen organic canola oil in the health food section of the grocery store which should be non-GMO’s.

  17. Great information. You need to see the documentary “David vs Monsanto.” It is very disturbing what big industry does to the farmers. They must not care about the welfare of anyone or the health and safety of our nation. How can they sleep at night?

  18. I recently began researching GMOs to learn more about them (I had no idea what GMO even stood for 2 months ago) and I have to say that this post is awesome for all the information you have provided. I just spent the last hour and a half reading information via several of the links you provided. Thank you for taking the time to write this post and including all the important references. They really make a difference in the educating process!

  19. Once again I thank your family for your practical and calm conveyance of information. It’s such an emotional issue, but sometimes the extreme emotions cloud the truth. It’s very refreshing to come to your web-site and feel like I’m just getting some good and practical information, without all the hype.

  20. @Joy-thanks for the information about Maseca brand masa harina! I will be buying Bob’s Red Mill from now on for our corn tortillas.
    @Jason-Thanks for the post and the summary of facts related to GMOs and the Monsanto Protection Act!

  21. I contacted Bob’s Red Mill about their flours, etc. and they do not use any GMOs in their foods (but I don’t think they are Non-GMO Project Certified). Their masa harina makes wonderful corn tortillas. We have enjoyed all of their products that we have used. Maseca brand corn masa flour on the other hand uses GMO corn since it’s “safe” because the FDA approved it, so we no longer use that for our tortillas.

  22. This brings up an interesting conundrum: my husband is gluten intolerant, so we frequently substitute corn-based products for wheat-based products. Now I find out that probably most of these substitutes may bring another set of problems with them. Very depressing, for him especially. I guess it’s time to start sourcing organic corn meal and learning how to make my own tortilla chips!

  23. Michelle Mincey

    In the book, Wheat Belly, I understand him saying that the majority of the wheat grown in the world is genetically modified. Can you clear this up for me or explain where the explanation is about no GMO wheat in US?
    Love your website and all the information you provide.

    1. In Wheat Belly, Dr. Davis does not state that today’s wheat is GMO, however he does discuss the crossbreeding that was done to get the common wheat today that is grown and how it also impacts health as GMO crops do. He goes into a lot of science in his book and for me I had to go back and read several parts of the book to put it all together.

  24. Caroline Bowman

    I can’t believe that some zucchini and yellow squash can be GMO’s? I thought I was doing right by buying that instead of corn. Sigh…still so much to learn in my quest to have my family eating real food.

  25. If you care to read this, its long and very poorly punctuated but it’s directly from a wheat farmer that posted on a message board I’m on when asked about the topic of gluten free/gmo’s in wheat:

    ****************************
    r2farm wrote:
    I am a hard red winter wheat grower, the bread kind and so I might have some bias but the gluten free movemnet really hasn’t made any significant dent in wheat demand so far IMHO. The whole Atkins diet thing had some effect but lately Mother Nature has been wreaking havoc on wheat growing areas of the world and the reduced supply thing has overshadowed any minor dietary changes to the us population as a whole and so many parts of the world are so food and carb deficient. We have grown wheat probably continuously for 108 years on our farm, while not our main crop and we are not big wheat farmers but during my tenure our farm has grown enough wheat for 45-50 million loaves of bread. Like I said we primarly grow Hard Red Winter class of wheat but I have grown hard white wheat under a specialty flour contract for Papa Johns Pizza and also produced hybrid soft red winter wheat under contract for sale as seed for the central corn belt. The hybrid wheats failed to produce any greater yield for the added cost of seed production and have gone away unlike hybrid corn. As far as gmo there are no commercially available wheat varities grown with gmo traits. There is one glyphosate tolerance (roundup ready) trait that has been introduced to wheat but it provides little value to growers as it takes away our primary means of volumteer wheat control in no-til situations and there are other ways both cultural and chemical to control grass type weeds very close to wheat genetically especially feral rye and jointed goatgrass and has not been advanced as a commercial varitety. As a grower we primarily select seed on yield for the conditions we expect to encounter on a particular field in a particular yield. Wheat is disease susceptable especially to fungal diseases and to a lesser extent some viral diseases. Most of the fungal diseases, rusts and mildews seem to adapt and seed breeders try to stay one step ahead which is quite the challange as all new wheats are bred in conventional ways, most of the viral stuff can be controlled through cultural practices. I am guessing most of our hard red wheats can be traced back to Turkey Red an “heirloom variety” brought to this countryfrom European settlers on the plains. Land grant university plots often have Turkey Red in test plots with more modern varietis and it is usually at the bottom in yield and guessing not so good in milling and baking qualities either. The millers and bakers want what they want to get a consistant product and will blend wheat from different areas to get it. Gluten is the “glue” that holds the dough together and it really doesn’t make sense that the bakers need higher levels than in the past, again consistancy is key. Gluten is a protein and how it relates to total protein content I’ll have to put that question to the breeeders I get to visit with annually at seed field days. Every load of wheat that we send to market gets protein checked and binned with like wheat, generally 11.5 to 12 pro is what is wanted by the millers and bakers . Low soil fertility results in 8-9 pro and there is still a portion of hrw wheat growers use no fertilizer. Rain after wheat is mature and ready for harvest can drop pro levels 1-2 percent. We can usually provide 12 pro with normal weather, sometimes higher when hit by drought stress as the plant has the same level of available nitrogen for less grain and introgen =protein. I said growers primarily select on yield but if we do not meet the quality factors desired by the millers and bakers we are hit and hit hard by discounts. Genreally within a crop year in the HRW belt from TX to SD there is enough variety to satisfy baking requirements even though some growers might get steep discounts and a few will get premiums. Discounts are much more common. None of this has really changed during my tenure here and guess I have been hauling wheat to town since 1974. In summary I really don’t think our product has changed that much through the years other than becoming more consistant. I don’t doubt that celiacs have severe problems with wheat products and no doubt as a carb wheat products have effects on blood sugar. Anecdotally I am of the wonder bread generation (grew up in the 60’s) the most refined probably of them all I am guessing that in its most popular times childhood obesity and diabetes rates were much lower than todays. Hopefully common sense and moderation prevail as there is no crop more adapted to our harsh high plains climate. The notion that gluten is universally bad has been exacerbated by marketrs lableing products gluten free that never ever contained wheat gluten and never will. One thing I am sure is for certain authors of trendy books like “Wheat Belly: etcetera probably have made more more off one book than my dad did in a whole decade of wheat production combined even using inflation adjusted dollars……….

    1. Mike, thanks for posting the article. It is very interesting information. I have not eliminated wheat from our family diet, because it is a whole grain and one we use for baking. It is interesting to read the article from the farmer pointing out that Turkey Red wheat is still used, which is considered an “heirloom variety.” Would you mind sharing the blog you read this information from.

      1. I could share the source, but it would provide no additional information. It is a message board about running (my other passion) and this guy is just a runner who also grows wheat. I haven’t engaged him directly it was just a response he posted that I thought was relevant. I’m glad it was useful info!

    2. Thanks for posting this Mike. We are hard red spring wheat farmers in Alberta and although our growing conditions are different from this farmers, I agree with the information that he has posted. The protein level of our wheat is often around 15% (as we are a dry area), but since our last 3 growing seasons have been wet, the protein has been closer to 12 or 12.5 %. He has listed a lot of points that I think are true.

  26. Excellent article! Very well written. Thanks so much & thanks for the “What You Can Do” section as well.

  27. South Africans are most uninformed about GMOs. We don’t have affordable organic choices yet, it’s still considered a luxury and rather expensive. As a mother trying to feed my children a healthy diet, it’s a daily struggle to find non-gmo options. You guys in the USA are very blessed.

  28. Great article. Thank you for what you’re doing and for taking a stand on this issue. I second the idea of a ‘worst chemicals to avoid list’ similar in spirit to the dirty dozen.

  29. Thanks so much for this, guys. I was overwhelmed by what seemed, at a glance, like very different messages about the MPA, and this article was helpful and informative. On to the Politico article next. Thanks again.

  30. I’m surprised to see some of my favorite companies have supported Prop 37…such as, Lundberg, Amy’s, Udis & Glutino. I thought some of the companies on the list were more responsible than advocating for GMOs. So disappointing to find the truth.

  31. It is a lot to take into consideration and it is absolutely not a switch that can be made overnight. I started off by taking HFCS out of my diet 8 years ago and have gradually come to eat vegetarian, doing my best to eat food grown and sourced USDA organic and humanely(ie organic milk from cows that eat a pesticide-free-as-can-be diet, and are raised humanely and without receiving hormonal or antibiotic supplement. It is much easier now than it was 8 years ago to find such foods as it is to find foods preserved without chemicals, sprouted-grain flourless breads, foods with no added coloring and natural coloring (ie beet juice) if any is added. Most if not all of the chemicals added regularly to our food in the US have been proven to cause cancer. Many of them are banned in Europe.
    I am still learning, and trying, but now am adding to my restrictions a ban, as much as I can , on GMO foods and production. I started with this:

    http://www.nongmoproject.org/find-non-gmo/search-participating-products/browse-products-by-brand/

    Many common companies that source most everything throughout our grocery stores use, develop, support, and/or financially contribute to the GMO projects. (Kraft, Cadbury, Bayer, Coca-Cola…)
    Many companies like Amy’s, Desert Essence, and Kashi are currently producing or planning to fully produce non-GMO edible and body care products.

  32. Nicely done! Thank you for that well written and insightful piece. I only have become aware of the dangers of GMOs myself in the past few months, but after watching “Genetic Roulette” (a MUST SEE documentary!) we cleaned out the cupboards. Awareness of consumers is the key. Keep on spreading the word!

    1. Lora, You sound just like me! My mother in law brought over “Genetic Roulette”, because her husband was interviewed in it, and my husband and I cleaned out our cupboards as well! I wish more people would watch it, because it really makes understanding the risks involved with GMO’s simple for everyone.

  33. I’m the daughter of a farmer. Farming is a tough, hard life. But it’s a life that comes with risks – late frosts, early rains, drought. There are no guarantees in farming. For this act to protect a crop and its grower *even if the crop is dangerous to consumers* is a slippery slope indeed. It’s Monsanto (and Dupont and Syngenta) having their way again. Isn’t it something that in all our years of conventional farming, an act like this was never necessary?

  34. While there are currently no GMO wheat plants in the US, the way they grow the wheat is often rotated with other GMO and even Roundup ready plants. I did a blog post about it after talking to wheat farmer and realizing what it looks like in real life. While I appreciate that the wheat has not been altered, I am not interested in eating flour harvested from wheat grown in soil that was sprayed with Roundup and grew genetically engineered soy.
    I included a link to my blog post. I hope that’s ok.
    http://mamamakeit.blogspot.com/2013/01/grr-gmos-in-flour-too.html

  35. Thank you for summing this up. It’s so hard to be an educated consumer on every aspect of life (food, hotels, cars, houses, etc). sometimes I want to put on my rose color glasses and stick my head in the sand. However, I keep plowing forward. Research takes so much time, then you have to sort out the facts from the myths. I love our freedom of free speech, but sometimes it can bite us in the butt. (Don’t get me wrong, I love our country and come from a military family, as well as our daugther and SIL being in the miliatry). We just need to slow down, investagate and get the facts straight before making a decision or a debate. thank you for doing this article. Thank you for all you do!

  36. RE the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act”

    As a farming family, we are the first to want safety of and for our product and land. And we absolutely take this into account before investing – time, money, energy, precious water resources, etc. – into a crop. The truth is, whether you want to admit it to yourself or not, GMO seeds have undergone a litany of tests both before and after USDA, EPA, and FDA approval.

    Yet, history shows that activist groups and courts continually try to disrupt the production of GMO products – with alfalfa and sugar beets in recent years, for example. With both, they were found to be safe to continue growing in subsequent years.

    Had the farmers not been allowed to take the crop to harvest, it would have likely bankrupted those farmers.

    With millions of underfed people in this world and rising food prices, halting food production over night through an activist court and bankrupting farmers is not the answer.

      1. The answer regarding GMOs?

        Ideally, I think that the answer starts with real, honest, unbiased education. No agendas. There is so much incorrect information and fear mongering, from all sides, that a real discussion is hardly possible at this point. It would be great to get to a point where people truly understand the health, environmental, social, and economic implications, limitations, and consequences of the various agriculture systems. And each system absolutely has its pros and cons.

        (And visiting all types of farms and actually understanding the systems, rather than going on one person’s word, would greatly aid in this education.)

        From there, we could individually make a decision – based on our values, circumstances, bodies – of what to put on our families’ tables. And I think that we should each have the right to make that choice, rather than trying to outlaw products or shutting down entire systems.

        I truly believe that if that were the current landscape, labeling wouldn’t face as much opposition. As it is, “Contains GMO” brings with it such fear (and, as a very healthy person who has eaten GMO products for the majority of my life, I think it is often – but not always – unnecessary fear). If that label was purely informational, the labeling initiative would have far more support where it counts and be much more likely to come into existence.

        Most of all, I dream of an un-contested, credible, definitive study on the long-term effects of GMO. I don’t know if that can or will ever happen, other than the continued test of time. It’s sad to me that people are so sure of conspiracy and agenda pushing, again from both sides, that science can’t play its proper role.

        Realistically… I don’t know how much of the above is actually possible. But we can individually strive to do our part by putting aside our agendas, opening our minds to the possibility that the other side might have some truth, and having civil discussions based on sharing that truth and putting an end to the mis-information and out-right lies.

    1. I do want to point out that the “Litany of test” were paid for and manipulated by Monsanto. Scientist who do real studies that show the damaging affects of GMO foods on humans and animals are discredited by Monsanto and lose funding. You need to watch the documentary “Genetic Roulette” you can watch it here an Youtube. Check out 59 min in…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=wnlTYFKBg18 Then you as a farming family can realize that the GMO crops that you are planting and selling are hurting people and maybe change your ways. You seem to be nice person just uninformed and once you see the error of selling GMO products you will do the right thing.

  37. I recently discovered your blog and have read every entry. Thank you so much for opening my eyes about eating real food. I am on a quest to get my family (with two teenage daughters) to eat healthier. I read “In Defense of Food” and “Food Matters” and have recommended them to everyone I know. I made my own bread his weekend and we have switched to organic whenever we can. I’m currently looking into farms where I can purchase our meat and dairy. Thank you so much for such a well-written, insightful blog.

  38. This is a fantastic article. I especially liked when you put it this way,
    “The point is that nature is incredibly complex, and while I am all for advancements in science, it is arrogant and misguided to think we “have it all figured out” and can start breaking the rules of nature with GMOs.”
    The fact is we-as an entire planet, do not know what the long term effects are going to be by altering the genetic makeup of organisms. This has to be the most unnatural thing we can do, and I don’t think that feeding our nation vast amounts of altered produce is at all productive, and may be incredibly dangerous. I honestly do not understand why it seems to be alright with the government to take that risk. I wrote a brief write up about the nonGMO project http://yakkafit.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/even-more-reasons-to-love-larabar/

    I continue to be inspired and motivated by what your family is doing, thank you!

    1. I agree Elizabeth! I knew nothing about GMOs a couple of months ago but that doc turned our world upside down!

  39. I appreciate your website, and this article, we are trying to steer into the direction of avoiding processed food and GMO. I have to admit I’m a little overwhelmed by reading ingredient lists for everything now – I was wondering if you guys have ever (or could possibly) put out some sort of prioritization list – I know to avoid preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, GMO products, but could you do like a top 10 “Avoid at all costs” (MSG, potassium benzoate, for example), then perhaps “Avoid if you can” (enriched flour, non-organic milk, HFCS for example), that would helpful. Kind of like the “dirty dozen” of chemicals? We are trying to avoid harmful chemicals but I’m not as strict on sugar, flour, etc. Just a thought, I don’t know if it would be helpful for anyone else.

    1. I started with avoiding artificial colors and flavors.For example, red #40, caramel color, artificial strawberry flavor etc…Most of these additives are petroleum based and really horrible.
      When you can do more, avoid TBHQ and BHA hydrogenated oil, and HFCS.

      You might want to consider taking things a meal at a time instead. For example make sure all dinner food is unprocessed. After a few weeks change breakfast meals, etc.

      1. Thank you – that is very helpful, I like how you can click on each chemical to see more info about it.

      2. If you have an iPod touch or smart phone, check out their Chem Cuisine app. I imagine it is like that website, but handy to have with you at the store.

  40. Also all conventional dairy and meat are fed an exclusive gmo diet. So the only way to avoid gmos in addition to avoiding the ingredients mentioned is to only buy organic meat, dairy and eggs. The gmos are present in meat and dairy since the animals are what they eat .

    1. This is absolutely false. I am a farmer’s wife. We have “conventional” cattle that are later slaughtered for meat consumption. They eat grass or wheat while on our farm. No GMOS.

      Contrary to what Michael Pollan presents in his incredibly biased books and movies, all farming and farmers are different. You can’t make categorical statements like “All conventional dairy and meat are fed an exclusive GMO diet.”

      1. Julia, you present a good point. While many farmers may not feed gmo feed on their farms while the cattle are growing, it is incredibly unlikely that they are finished on feeds that do not contain GE corn.

      2. Emmy, In Canada the finishing diets of cattle are based around barley and not corn, due to the climatic growing conditions of the crops. There may be small amounts of corn in their diets in the feedlots but barley is the main grain fed. And like wheat and other cereal grains, there is no GMO barley commercially grown anywhere.

      3. Well, it’s not absolutely false. If you feed your animals any kind of “feed” they are mostly comprised of corn and soy, and is GMO. I raise chickens, and regular chicken feed is between $12-16 a bag. Organic Non-GMO is $25-30 a bag. Even if you supplement free ranging your birds, they still need chicken feed. So if it’s not grass fed beef (which is typically labeled so, because I don’t consider that conventional), it’s likely getting GMO feed. If it’s not organic pork, or chicken, it’s likely getting GE corn and soy.

      4. My point is that they are not all fed an EXCLUSIVE GMO diet.

        In the omnivore’s dilemma, Pollan follows a cow down the food chain, but picks one that is never given grazing time. He makes it seem that cattle today have extremely short life spans – that they are shipped to feedlots as calves and then force fed GMOs and hormones to grow rapidly. This isn’t representative of how most cattle are raised.

        Yet, for so many “activists,” reading Pollan’s account is the closest they have every gotten to cattle production. I’ve found that because of Pollan’s work and other so-called journalists, many people don’t understand that most cows do still graze on grass and wheat. Going around saying that conventional cattle eat only GMO is false.

    2. One thing I have started doing, is calling each dairy or meat company that we buy and asking them if they feed their animals a GMO free diet. To my shock when I called Brown Cow, the lady cheerfully told me that their cows graze on green grass most of the time, but are fed corn and soy grains on occasion which (she cheerfully said) “which are most likely GMO grains, but that you asked such a wonderful question”. I guess she didn’t see a problem with GMO’s. I was glad that she told the truth, and no longer bought their product.

  41. This is probably a dumb question, but you said there is no GMA wheat sold in the U.S. I read Wheatbelly – and the author said that wheat is dramatically different than it was in our grandparents day (thus the reason for so many more people allergic to it apparently). Is this because it was selectively bred until it was very different then? I just want to have my facts straight. :) Thanks!

    1. Replying, though I’m not the author of this post! I’ve not read the book, but my understanding is that wheat has been changed through hybridization – breeding or cross-pollinization of two plants from the same genus – over the years. This differs from genetic engineering, which typically inserts genes from *another* unrelated species. Think of a dog that’s a crossbreed between a poodle and a labrador. Can do in nature. You’d never see a cross between a dog and a horse in nature, though.

      1. Ya, wheat is different for reasons of crossbreeding. However, think about how canola was created. It is low erucic acid rapeseed oil. They crossed and crossed the rapeseed plants over and over until they ended up with rapeseed oil so low in erucic acid that it is considered safe to consume in small doses.

        Can the same thing happen in REVERSE? Can they cross wheat plants until the gluten levels are so high, and our bodies react negatively to it?

        Think about it.

        NEITHER is GMO, but we avoid both. I did the research for a genetics project in college and it was eye opening.

      2. Also – there is a VAST difference between fresh ground wheat and all wheat products from the store. Even with “whole wheat” flour, nearly all the good stuff is removed before it makes it to the store. When you mill wheat, within a few days the oils go rancid and the vitamins oxidize. So products in the store bear little resemblance to the original.

        Grind your own wheat and it’s completely different – and not that difficult with the right tools.

    2. I am also very curious about wheat. I am on the fence about whether or not wheat is good or bad. I have not eliminated it, as of yet. I have read so many different books and articles about how wheat is bad for our digestive tracts and causes many problems within our cells, causing inflammation. Many articles say going gluten free is the best way to go, but many gluten free breads and pastries are made with potato starch and tapioca starch, which have NO nutritional value. So is 100% whole wheat, which is whole grain, better than a gluten free lifestyle? I have conversations with friends who only eat foods that are gluten free and they say they feel better by not eating wheat. I recently read an article in Parents magazine about whether or not a gluten free diet is better for your child, and some say it is. If wheat is not the same as our grandparents, has it changed that much to no longer make it a healthy grain choice????

  42. Great article! I also didn’t know what GMOs were just a year ago. Labeling will go a long way to help educate consumers on what is in their food. I avoid all processed food now because I can’t stand to know my dollars go towards these companies.

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