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Saturday, February 11, 2012

The GMO Battle: Does Whole Foods Support Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered Alfalfa?

If you’re a health nut like I am, you’ve likely already heard about the allegation that Whole Foods Market has apparently surrendered to the agricultural giant, Monsanto, and agreed to support the introduction of genetically modified alfalfa into our ecosystem. Genetically modified organisms (specifically, those which are being created for the sole purpose of human consumption) is one area of Holistic Nutrition in which I am exceptional passionate.

So the recent turmoil has prompted me to write this piece and hopefully explain the occurrences for those who may otherwise not be aware.

First of all, the controversy brewing in the United States over genetically modified alfalfa is not a new subject. It has simply reached a critical cross-road and the developments that have been unfolding over the last week or so have begun to aim a spotlight on the topic.

Monsanto, a corporation driven purely by financial gain with no regard for the human or environmental impact of its products, continues to push for the introduction of more genetically modified organisms. Why is this important to them? Because they hold the patents to the seeds. But why would farmers want to use these seeds? Because they are genetically modified to be resistant to RoundUp herbicide, meaning the farms can spray their crops to kill off other organisms, but allow the alfalfa to survive. But there’s a catch (actually, there’s many catches, but I’m just writing an article, not a book). Genetically modified organisms will not properly reproduce for future generations. With traditional farming practices, farmers would breed crops and keep the best seeds in order to have successful subsequent growing years. They would also practice crop rotation techniques to allow the soil to regenerate and replenish the nutrients used by the previous year’s crops. But this art is slowing dying as a direct result of the greed of Monsanto.

Once a farmer begins using Monsanto seeds, they are essentially hooked for life. They cannot easily go back to using traditional methods because the cross-contamination of their seeds with those from Monsanto results in an infringement of the patent and trademark laws. Many farmers who have never even used Monsanto seeds have fallen victim to these laws due to the cross-pollination effect of wind, that occurs naturally. Percy Schmeiser is probably the most famous of these farmers. His crops were contaminated when a truck drove passed his property carrying Monsanto seeds. Monsanto came after
Percy claiming he was in violation of using their patented product intentionally. Once genetically modified organisms have been unleashed into the environment, there is no way to control them or take them back. They will spread. Nature knows no borders.

As I mentioned, the battle of genetically modified food is not new. Monsanto has been trying to get approval from the USDA to allow them to provide farmers with alfalfa seeds for many years. Fortunately, there has been enough public protest and companies, such as Whole Foods, to stand up and fight against this abomination. Currently, 93% of soy, 86% of corn, 93% of cotton and 93% of canola (rapeseed) seed planted in the US in 2010 was genetically engineered. If we continue to allow more GM food to be grown, there will be little we can do to avoid consuming it even if we don’t want it. Not only will crops become cross-contaminated, but organic livestock (which would otherwise be GMO-free) could be fed genetically modified grains, threatening the integrity of the organic meat and dairy industries. We will inevitably be consuming more gmo in one form or another, without knowledge or consent.

As I mentioned, some companies like Whole Foods have attempted to stand up and be the voice for the public. Whole Foods has always been opposed to all GMO… until recently, it would seem. The USDA put forth a proposal to allow GM alfalfa to finally make its way to farmland. According to Whole Foods, the USDA presented the industry with two options: total deregulation of Genetically Engineered alfalfa, or deregulation with some conditions to facilitate coexistence and protection of non-GE farmers. Wholefoods reluctantly opted for the latter.

The options presented by the USDA were essentially to either allow Monsanto full control to do as they want completely unregulated, or to allow Monsanto to do what they want, but implement some regulation and attempt to control Genetically engineered alfalfa so it can co-exist with non-GMO varieties.

This is where the recent controversy really takes off. Upon hearing this news, the Organic Consumers Association immediately published an article detailing how Whole Foods Market (as well as Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm) surrendered to Monsanto and began supporting genetic modification. The information spread through the industry like wildfire. Within hours, Whole Foods was being bombarded with vicious attacks from loyal customers.

In an attempt to explain their position, Whole Foods has released a few statements and responded to countless angry inquiries. Their decision was not one that was made lightly. As I mentioned, Whole Foods has made it very clear that they do not support the USDA’s choice to allow for the introduction for Genetically Engineered alfalfa. However, they were forced to make a decision between the 2 options listed above, or else sacrifice their seat at the table and have no voice at all. The position in which Whole Foods was placed was not an easy one.

And so the dilemma continues to move forward. Thousands of angry consumers feel helpless. Many are upset with Whole Foods and argue that the company should have taken a harder stance in their position and not allow the USDA to bully them into making a decision between 2 evils. Why couldn’t Whole Foods have simply said “No, we do not support either of these options” and continue fighting the battle against GMO through other means? Or perhaps it was the right decision for them to keep their voice with the USDA so they can continue to fight from the inside? These are incredibly difficult questions to answer and begin to get very political, too.

There are many aspects of genetically modified food which could be discussed. For now, though, this article is merely intended to explain why there seems to be so much controversy surrounding this subject at the moment.

Want to read more:
How you can be help and take action:
Despite the efforts and recommendations of Whole Foods (and other organic companies), the USDA fully deregulated GE alfalfa on January 27, 2011. This means that farmers can plant the Frankenfood with no restrictions. But the fight is not over. President Obama has the power to overrule the USDA’s decision, and it’s important that he do so in order to protect the organic meat and dairy industry.
Please sign this petition to voice your opinion:
Here are some other resources for you to help:
If you’re interesting in helping organize or coordinate a Millions Against Monsanto and Factory Farms Truth-in-Labeling campaign in your local community, sign up here:
To pressure Whole Foods Market and the nation’s largest supermarket chains to voluntarily adopt truth-in-labeling practices sign here, and circulate this petition widely:
What do you think Whole Foods should have done (or should do now)?
About Rich Ralph
As a Registered Holistic Nutritionist in Vancouver, Rich took his passion for health and wellness to the extreme in 2007 when he became the first man to successfully roller-blade across Canada, from Newfoundland to British Columbia, in support of cancer research. He is committed to educating and encouraging people to make powerful and sustainable nutritional adjustments which will provide the greatest impact to your well-being.

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