Tag Archives: organic

CA Prop 37

In November, we will be voting on proposition 37, which would require the labeling of any products which contain GMOs. It would also not allow any products containing GE (genetically engineered) ingredients to be labelled as “Natural”. (Some background information and my opinions on GMOs can be found in an earlier post here: https://eat-for-the-earth.com/2012/04/07/gmos-29/.) The proposition is important because California is a very populous, powerful state. A law passed in California has a very strong chance of being passed in other states and nationally.

When I heard about this proposition I supported it immediately and wholly. I was wondering what a possible counter-argument could be. The proposition supports the simple idea that we have a right to know what is in our foods. Though it would be nice if it were that easy, the issue is of course more complicated. Those who oppose the proposition (companies like Monsanto and General Mills) have many points. They point out that the companies would have to spend a lot of money to repackage their products. However, many companies whose products can be found in the U.S. also sell to some of the 40 countries which require labeling for GMOs. Kellogg’s came up with a brand new package for the Olympics but they don’t want to do the same thing so the public can know what is in their product?

It is also said that the GMO label would possibly scare many people away, especially those who don’t know much about GMOs, and cause a massive drop in sales for companies whose products contain GMOs. Nothing could be worse than the public being afraid of the food in our stores without knowing about it. At the same time, maybe this will inspire the public to learn more about GMOs and what is in their food. They would be able to make more educated choices, even if it means supporting a company whose products contain GE ingredients. Products without GMOs would most likely continue to do okay. They would be required to start keeping records if their products are not labelled as Non-GMO or Organic. (Organic standards prohibit genetic engineering.) This could be initially costly. Even if many companies collapse, which I doubt will be the case, it may be beneficial in the long run, the kind of start we need to major change.

Another criticism is that the proposition includes many seemingly random exceptions to the labeling requirement, such as food sold in restaurants or meats: http://noprop37.com/uploads/1343839588-NoonProp37ArbitraryExemptions.pdf. Foreign food companies must only state that their food is “GE Free” to avoid putting the new label on but American companies and farmers must start to keep records to guarantee their products contain less than .5% GE ingredients by weight, starting 2014. Were the proposition to pass, this would be the strictest tolerance standard of any country. After 2019, the standard would go down to 0%. This scares me because it could mean the demise of many good-hearted companies that happen to have products contaminated by GMOs, which are so ubiquitous nowadays.

The proposition would bring a lot of change to grocery stores, food companies, what the public sees and knows about their food. There are some inconsistencies and I would no doubt change a few things were I to have written the proposition. For example, products from animals injected or fed with genetically engineered ingredients would not require the GMO label. But considering the proposition as a whole, I say yes, somewhat tentatively, until I have a chance to give it more thought. It seems to me the long run benefits would outweigh the initial troubles.

Here are my sources. I encourage you to learn more than I’ve said here.

http://giannini.ucop.edu/media/are-update/files/articles/V15N6_2.pdf

http://www.fogcityjournal.com/wordpress/4984/corporations-spending-millions-to-defeat-california-gmo-labeling-proposition/

http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Prop-37-GE-labels-mean-higher-costs-3805499.php

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/17/prop-37-california_n_1791555.html#slide=786553

http://www.noprop37.com/facts/

http://www.carighttoknow.org/facts

https://plus.google.com/u/1/+MikeElgan/posts/fXXtmS7TB7N

-Simon

EWG Report: Assessment of Different Foods’ Life Cycles and Carbon Emissions

This thorough report by the Environmental Working Group looks at a range of foods’ carbon emissions across different stages of their lifecycle, from production to disposal http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/ I really value the information presented in this report because of its approach. It isn’t raw numbers; it’s all comparative and evaluative. It’s holistic and takes into account every part of the process, detailing how every step contributes to the over-all environmental impact of a food. The pie charts and bar graphs give simple visuals, but there are also in-depth explanations. The study brings to light that just wasting food contributes a large percentage of emissions to a food’s total. It has always made sense to me to eat everything that you take and I think it is part of valuing and enjoying a food to its fullest. Food has to mean something to us. It is not something to just throw away. And now I know there is scientific evidence to back that up, as this contributes to the large percentage of a food’s emission that comes from avoidable waste. The report also backs up that composting can help reduce carbon emissions; less food waste going into land fills, more going back into the garden. It is therefore not only important what food you buy, but what you do with the product after you buy it: how much you’ll eat, how you will dispose of it, etc.

The page on nutrition speaks to me because I am always trying to convince people they can get more than enough protein without meat, as well as plenty of other nutrients. You don’t need to look far to see the health benefits of cutting down meat intake. And if there is a meat you’re going to cut down on, I think the study makes it clear that ruminants are the worst polluters and red meat the worst for your health. At the same time, pasture-raised and organic beef seems like a good alternative. And while decreased inputs and no chemicals or antibiotics makes for a less harmful practice, I think that beef farming inherently involves a big environmental impact, as is true with pretty much all agriculture on a larger scale. It really depends on the place and I think this study is very strong in it’s specificity and lack of generalizations. Organic might mean a lot in certain cases, and nothing in others, which is what I’ll talk about next post.

-Simon

Labeling

I think one of the most interesting things about any food we buy is the label it carries. Does the company assure that the enclosed item is “all natural” or “organic” or “free-range”? These terms aren’t backed with the regulation and specificity we’d wish them to be, but I think that’s another post on its own. It seems a possibility to decide a food’s value based on these claims. Another possibility would be to turn the package over and read the ingredients list to decide the contents’ healthiness, for the environment or for ourselves. To me, the answer to this dietary question can be found in your head rather than on a wrapper. When you pick up an apple in the super market, the little sticker will probably tell you the brand, where it was farmed, and maybe even that it’s organic. Personally, I know I’d rather see California on that label than China, and the word organic is a positive one too. But do I even know if it is apple season? What if I went to a farmers market and asked the growers exactly what went into their apples? What if I picked the fruit from my own backyard? Without even going into the ambiguous and misleading nature of many food labels, it is certain that we know more about the farmers market or home-grown apple. The label and ingredient list are much less of the food’s story than we think. Can they tell us how the food was harvested? Its carbon footprint? Can they tell us what the food was covered in while it was alive or sprayed with after it died? There are of course times when we want to see how much fat or protein is in something because we are trying to be healthy. However, I feel that often we look at a food’s package to decide its content and a few words with different connotations make the decision for us. Or maybe, studies performed by experts make the decision for us. I am just suggesting that there is more to it. Past the food’s content is its experience before it gets to us; past the studies done in labs is our personal relationship with the food. We can’t decide what goes into a food or what its ingredients do in our body, but we can decide what product, what company, and what philosophy we want to support.

Obviously, any time you go to the market for food, you check a food’s label; I will, so will my vegetarian friends. There are certain ingredients we like to stay away from and certain labels that we don’t trust. But I think we can start by just opening our eyes to a different way of looking at our food’s worth. Maybe planting a few seeds in our backyard or visiting a local farmers market can put us a little closer to knowing what goes into our food. In the end, I think that’s what it really comes down to: knowing. Labels often don’t tell me everything I want to know.

-Simon