Nature’s Path CEO Arran Stephens’ impassioned talk on GMOs

Arran Stephens is one of the great persuaders on organic agriculture. He runs North America’s largest organic cereal manufacturer. Here are his comments from a recent rally against Monsanto in Vancouver– including how to shop for non-GMO foods.

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Arran’s speech at the March Against Monsanto, 25 May 2013:

My Mum and Dad farmed sustainably on Vancouver Island in the 1940’s and ’50’s. While helping my dad spread seaweed from the beaches on our fields and planting corn, he told me, “Always leave the Soil better than you found it”.
My wife and I, our several children and team have, over the decades, built a legacy organic food company that employs hundreds of valued team members in several communities on the principle of the triple bottom line: socially responsible, environmentally sustainable and financially viable.

We are not anti-business so long as the enterprise is guided by principles and ethics, but we are against business if it hurts people, our farmland, our choices and our planet.

In 1994, I first learned about the gene-splicing technology and the first genetically engineered commercial product from Calgene, called the FlavrSavr tomato, which had genes from a flounder inserted into the DNA of a tomato to give it a longer shelf life. Now, being a staunch vegetarian for ethical reason since 1964, I was aghast. I did not want to eat this frankenfood tomato with a fish gene. What are the ethical dimensions of this corruption of Nature? Thankfully, consumers rejected these franken-tomatoes and they are no longer on the market.
From then until now, and especially since independent study after independent study has shown serious health and
environment consequences of GMOs, I have been an implacable foe of the unwilling genetic engineering of our food supply.

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. This technology creates new species of plants and animals not found in nature, created in laboratories. Like crossing a dog and a cat, for example. Inserting BT toxic bacterium into the dna of say corn, or soy, or alfalfa so it will kill insects, has a cumulative and negative effect on humans, and creates super pests. Once released into nature it is very difficult to recall them. It’s like opening Pandora’s Box. In 1994 I said very loudly, “There’s no wall high enough to keep out GMOs”.

There are three main types of GMOs. One has insecticide toxin spliced into the seed’s genetic code. The second has genes spliced with glyphosate herbicide resistance, and the third has both. So when you plant it in a field and saturate that field with pesticides and herbicides, everything in that field dies (in theory). Everything, except for the Genetically modified soy, or corn, or canola, or whatever.

Animal studies show that GMOs cause : cancers, ulcers, acute signs of early aging, reproductive and growth problems. GMO toxins and herbicide residues are already in our bodies, and increase as we continue consuming foods which have been genetically engineered, and doused with herbicides. In a 2011 study from the Scientific Journal Reproductive Toxicology, 93% of fetal blood tested contained GMO toxins. This is dangerous and if you are a mother, you should be concerned, if not downright angry..
More than eighty percent of all food sold in Canadian supermarkets contain these GMOs. Eighty percent! And nobody knows about it because they are not labeled! 64 countries require GMO labeling or have an outright ban. 64 countries including such “Progressive” Nations such as China and Russia – require GMOs to be labeled. Why not Canada?

My family has been at the forefront to label GMOs in North America. We are Canadians, living here in Vancouver and Victoria, but so far, the fight to label has been in the US. This is a problem affecting everybody, everywhere. Your coming out today is a sign that Canada too is waking up.

Let me tell you about a grandmother called Pamm Larry in California. Pamm presented a proposition to label GMOs called Proposition 37. My family heard about this and contributed significantly to help Pamm spread the word and have all foods containing GMOs labeled. We figured that if California got this passed, it would spread like a fire across North America. Other companies and individuals joined us and we raised 3-4 million dollars for prop 37, for the right to know.

Advance polls indicated that Californians wanted it and Prop 37 was going to pass with a landslide. But guess what happened in the last 6 weeks of that grass roots
campaign? Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, Post, DuPont, Bayer, Pespico, Cascadian Farms, Kelloggs, Kashi and others donated almost 50 million dollars to defeat labeling. Those big companies and big companies posing as little companies do not want consumers to know what we are eating. They outspent the grassroots pro-labeling initiative by 10 to 1 after waging a very dirty, fearful and deceitful media campaign. But guess what? They didn’t win the vote by tenfold. The final vote came down to 48.5% for labeling GMOs and 51.5% against.

It wasn’t technically a win for Consumer Rights this time BUT it was a victory in that 6,000,000 people voted FOR labeling. That represents a ten-fold increase in awareness of this dangerous and unsustainable technology.

We are awakening and we are the droplets of water in the tides that are turning. Just this past week in Connecticut, the House approved a pro-labeling bill that went to the Senate which voted to approve it 35 to 1: Democrats and Republicans together. Concerned Citizens in Washington State and Vermont have bills on the table as we speak.

My good friend Dr. John Fagan, an independent geneticist and one who is against genetically engineering our food, says, “I spoke with people involved in the Washington State initiative just yesterday and they are confident that they will win as well. And Vermont’s lower house has passed their bill. It will be early next year when the Vermont Senate and the Connecticut House will vote. It is believed that, if these three states succeed, the FDA will take action on the Federal level.”

Isn’t the Canadian government supposed to protect us citizens? Don’t we have the right to know what we are eating? Must we teach ourselves where to shop, how to shop, and what to buy? Apparently so. Make your voice heard, ask your local politicians for help, speak out to our schools. In a world where voting with your hard-earned money can be an act of protest, buy from local farms and markets whom you trust. Be defiant, plant seeds, grow your own.

Here are some shopping tips:
Avoid “Natural” food if that’s the only claim. By itself, “Natural” means nothing nowadays. “Natural” now means grown with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers. There are no rules or laws governing the term.

Foods bearing the Canada Organic Seal can be trusted. Organic is a legal definition and a traceable system, with the force of law behind it.

Now there’s a new food label called Non-GMO project verified. Non GMO Verified products have been third-party tested to contain zero to a maximum GMO threshold of 9/10 of a percent. If you see this verification Seal on your food packaging, you can be assured that the food has been tested and has not exceeded the .9% threshold, compared with a GMO product that could be anywhere from 60% to 100% contaminated. It’s a step in the right direction. However, it is not all that great. Harmful and unsustainable toxic agricultural chemicals are still allowed with this label, just not GMOs. The trouble with this label is that some companies are using it to greenwash their products. It is no where near as good as organic.

Organic has always been non GMO, and will always be non-gmo! If in doubt, buy certified organic. Organic automatically means GMO FREE — PLUS grown sustainably and organically. Organic is quantum leaps ahead of all other label claims. The organic method of agriculture and production is your best bet to keep our waters, lands and soil pure—what to speak of our bodies.

Think of the GMO crop field – barren of bees, beneficial insects and microorganisms, silent except for farmers in biohazard suits spraying toxic chemicals on crops. Now see an organic one. See a world where the bees are buzzing and the soil is naturally replenished. See the world where food is democratic, where the seeds are free and unpatented (if farmers are allowed to save them) and grow again and again and again. When you buy Organic, you support this virtuous circle.

Now think about this: if a Canadian commits suicide, it will make the news. In india, more than 250,000 cotton farmers have committed suicide after their GMO cotton crops failed and the cost of GMO seeds, pesticides and herbicides exceeded their revenues, and its almost totally unknown in the West. One Indian cotton farmer commits suicide every thirty minutes. The usual method of suicide there is by drinking glyphosate herbicide. Don’t let them fool you, herbicide is a poison. Don’t use it on your weeds. Dig them out, mulch them out, but don’t spray that poison for others to breathe and touch.

If consumers (you and me) can get our government to label gmos, people will likely stop buying them. This is what happened in Europe, and why GMO food failed totally there.
We need to do the same. This is what all the giant agrichemical companies are terrified of. Demand GMOs to be labeled. If China and Russia and 62 other countries have done it, we can too. Nestle just recently caved into consumers in South Africa who demanded that their baby food be GMO free. Why did Nestle do this? Because a concerned group of citizens demanded it.

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Like in S. Africa, we can do the same here in Canada. We must! We are the voice! We have the right to know what’s in our food! What do we want: Labeling. When do we want it: Now.

Vandana Shiva says, “The growing of our food should be an act of love”.

And as Grandpa says “Always leave the soil better than you found it”

Posted in GMOs, Growing soil, Industrial farming, Laws and regulations, Organics, Pesticides | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dig, eat and be healthy tells all about

Dig, eat and be healthy tells all about converting public lands to food-growing #localfood http://ow.ly/mo0tz

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McDonald’s closing all restaurants in Bolivia

McDonald’s is closing all restaurants in Bolivia as the nation rejects fast food. It seems Bolivians were concerned about how the food was prepared, and what was in it.

I still think many people in many countries are stuck on fast food, in spite of the importance of slow eating. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to not eat standing up.

I have, however, invested in a healthy gluten-free fast food restaurant in Vancouver (Smak, 1139 W. Pender) because I believe if people insist on fast food, they should at least be able to get food that’s healthy and locally-sourced.

 

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New CFIA “local food” definition is suspicious

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) new “local food” definition is suspicious, misleading and disturbing. Its sudden implementation and the misleading advantage it gives to food that isn’t really local but can be marketed as such suggest collusion with the grocery industry.

As Deconstructing Dinner’s Jon Steinman says in this Tyee article: we should “absolutely abandon even recognizing the CFIA as an agency that has any interest in serving us. Let’s move beyond having to rely on those labels and start developing relationships with our food producers and with each other and creating our own names and labels.”

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13 must-read books on food

I’m honoured to have my book on @Food_Tank’s list of 13 must-read books on food.

Here’s their whole list:

1.    Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan takes back the “single most important thing [to] do as a family to improve our health and well-being”: cooking. A poetic exploration of the beauty and simplicity of preparing food, this book will help readers get off the couch and into the kitchen.

2.     VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good by Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman delves into the benefits – to the environment, to personal health, and to the economy – of reducing meat consumption. Without forbidding or condemning meat, this is a great book for the environmentally-conscious omnivore.

3.     Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food by Frederick Kaufman

Bet the Farm starts with an unnerving statistic: in 2008, “farmers produced more grain than ever, enough to feed twice as many people as were on Earth. In the same year… a billion people went hungry.” Kaufman delves into the problems with our food system and uncovers the financial underpinnings that motivate this dysfunctional system.

4.     Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America by Wenonah Hauter

A farmer from Virginia and an advocate for healthy eating, Hauter explores the “corporate, scientific, industrial, and political” aspects of our food system in an effort to understand the problems with mainstream production and distribution systems, and how to fix them in order to incorporate healthy, mindful eating.

5.     Behind the Kitchen Door by Saru Jayaraman

Exploring the food system from a different angle, Jayaraman points to the deeply troubling labor practices that exist in the food industry. With personal stories and interviews, Jayaraman unveils the low wages and grueling positions that farm and kitchen workers endure.

6.     The Last Hunger Season: A Year In An African Farm Community On The Brink Of Change by Roger Thurow

Thurow spent a year with four women smallholder farmers in western Kenya to document their struggles in supporting and feeding themselves and their families. He evaluates the extent to which the work of initiatives like the One Acre Fund can help these farmers pull themselves up and defeat hunger and poverty.

7.     American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Its Food (And What We Can Do About It) by Jonathan Bloom

Focusing on food waste in the United States, this book takes the issue beyond big farms and corporations to a very personal level. A great introduction to the ways that our own actions are impacting the food system, and what we can do about it.

8.     The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities by Peter Ladner

According to the World Health Organization, more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. The Urban Food Revolution looks at the ways in which urban food systems need to change in order to become healthier and more sustainable

9.     Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It by Anna Lappe

Anna Lappe’s Diet for a Hot Planet outlines the ways in which the current food system contributes to climate change, the barriers to a true reform, and what consumers can do to provoke change.

10.   WASTE: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal by Tristram Stuart

Uncovering waste in production and processing, the role of supermarkets in passing on wastefulness to suppliers and consumers, and consumers’ wasteful practices at home, Stuart’s book explores the many pathways of waste that exist in our food system. Even better, his book provides examples of countries where the food system is working, and offers tips on reducing and reusing our food.

11.    The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre! edited by Carleen Madigan

The Backyard Homestead tells would-be farmers how to farm on just a quarter of an acre.

12.    The Perfect Protein: The Fish Lover’s Guide to Saving the Oceans and Feeding the World by Andy Sharpless

Sharpless argues that seafood will be the best source of sustainable protein for a rapidly growing global population. And he highlights the importance of protecting the health and biodiversity of wild fish populations.

13.    The Essential Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal

For those without a backyard, the Essential Urban Farmer is the essential tutorial to begin growing food in cities.

Posted in Food economics, Food security, Urban farmers, Waste no more | Leave a comment

Unapproved GMO Monsanto wheat goes rogue

Unapproved GMO Monsanto wheat goes rogue in Oregon, prompting a lawsuit in Kansas.

This USA Today story describes the implications for US trade with Europe and Asia: No genetically engineered wheat has been approved for U.S. farming. Many countries will not accept imports of genetically modified foods, and the United States exports about half of its wheat crop. Since the announcement, Japan — one of the largest export markets for U.S. wheat growers — suspended some imports. South Korea said it would increase its inspections of U.S. wheat imports.

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Canada’s only farm-centred subdivision.

One of the more promising ways to put agriculture and food security on a more sustainable economic footing is using the proceeds of housing developments.

P1000277When I researched this topic for my book (see chapter on “farming as the new golf”), I visited Prairie Crossing in Illinois and heard about many such subdivisions in the US, but only one, pending and struggling, in Canada: the Southlands proposal in Tsawwassen, B.C.

Now this Toronto Star article discovers Hendrick Farm, Canada’s only farm-centred subdivision in Quebec, just outside Ottawa.

Posted in Farmland preservation, Food economics, Food security, Investing in food | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

High density high tech urban ag coming on strong

High density high tech urban ag is a growing solution to the problems of accessing fresh food year-round, with minimal water and waste. Think 5-mile diet.

Posted in Buying local, Commercial growing, Farmland preservation, Food economics, Hydroponics, Rooftop growing, Urban farmers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Farmers need help to cope with climate change

For every degree C rise in average earth temperature, expect crop production to decline by 10%.

A new B.C. gov’t study looks at the help farmers are going to need to cope with rising sea levels, salinization of fields, unpredictable weather, new pests…

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Embattled Lantzeville urban farmer gives up

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Dirk Becker and Nicole Shaw’s fight with their neighbour– and his friends on the Lantzeville, B.C. council– has worn them down to the point where they’re selling their Compassionate Farm property.

Dirk’s style is not always conducive to compromise, but his integrity, expertise and passion for local agriculture and food security is unmatched.

If he and Nicole end up moving out of Lantzeville as well as moving out of their neighbourhood, the community will lose a real leader in growing local, fresh, organic food.

 

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