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In the words of Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser:
“If they have to put the word ‘natural’ on a box to convince you, it probably isn’t.”
But this doesn’t stop countless processed food manufacturers from boldly labeling their products as 100% natural in the hopes of appealing to health-minded shoppers like you.
After all, products labeled as “natural” or “sustainable” account for $50 billion in sales annually, or 8 percent of total retail grocery sales, and the numbers are likely growing.
When you see a supposedly “natural” product, like ConAgra’s Wesson brand vegetable oils claim to be, you would probably assume they contain no genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which by definition are not found in nature.
But Wesson oils, specifically the Canola Oil, Vegetable Oil, Corn Oil, and Best Blend, do in fact contain GMOs, prompting a class-action lawsuit over their misleading “100% natural” label claim.
Any GM Product is, by Definition, NOT Natural
The lawsuit alleges that ConAgra’s use of GM corn and soy in their cooking oils disqualifies the product as being labeled “all-natural.” The plaintiffs cite two very fitting definitions of genetic modification to prove their point, including one from biotech giant, and leading GM seed creator, Monsanto.
As Food Safety News reported:
“According to Monsanto, GMOs are: “Plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs.” The complaint also quotes a GMO definition from the World Health Organization: “Organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.”
It will be interesting to see how the lawsuit turns out, as a conviction against ConAgra could have important consequences for the manufacturers of countless other processed foods. Virtually all processed foods contain GM ingredients, unless they are certified organic, and many of them also claim to be all natural.
How do GM Food Manufacturers Get Away with Using the “All-Natural” Claim?
The natural food label on processed food has no standard definition and really no meaning at all. The term is only regulated on meat and poultry, for which an item labeled natural may not contain any artificial flavors, colors or chemical preservatives. But in the processed food arena, a “natural” product can be virtually anything — genetically modified, full of pesticides, made with corn syrup, additives, preservatives and artificial ingredients.
The main point to remember is that as it stands, in the United States a food can be labeled 100% natural even if it contains GM ingredients. The ConAgra lawsuit is poised to change all of that, but only if the suit is successful …
Even Organic Foods May be Contaminated with GM Ingredients
The problem with GM ingredients infiltrating the food supply are two-fold. First are the manufacturers like ConAgra, who intentionally use GM corn, GM soy and other GM ingredients but “greenwash” their labels to keep it quiet. Then there is the problem of GM contamination, which is becoming progressively more difficult to control.
If you’ve followed the debate about genetically engineered crops for some time, you may remember that the USDA initially proposed that the organic rules should allow GM foods to be labeled organic. Fortunately, the public outcry stopped this atrocious proposal. In fact, it was the second largest citizen response up until that time for any proposed regulation. After several hearings around the United States, the final organic rule did not allow for GM ingredients.
However, we’re now facing significant contamination, both in the fields and during processing, and as a result it’s becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to guarantee a food will not contain any kind of GM substance. This is an industry fact that holds true for all organic retailers. Even the Non-GMO project has admitted this. The approval of GM alfalfa this year will only make matters worse, as alfalfa is a powerful pollinator.
“Contamination is an intentional strategy,” Dr. Philip Bereano, professor emeritus at the University of Washington and an engaged activist concerning GM foods, says. “It’s an intentional strategy by both the government and the industry. We have statements to that effect… Contamination in the field by pollen flow; contamination in the processing. They use the same railcars for engineered and non-engineered crops and things like that.”
Ronnie Cummins with the Organic Consumers Association also discussed this in an interview, warning that any alfalfa growing within a five mile radius of GM alfalfa will immediately become contaminated. The ramifications of this contamination are actually far worse than you might think, because alfalfa is a major food source for organic dairy cows. So once organic alfalfa becomes contaminated, organic milk and beef goes out the window too.
Echoing Dr. Bereano’s beliefs exactly, Cummins also said:
“I believe that this is an act of premeditated genetic pollution of the gene pool of alfalfa and related plants by Monsanto. They know exactly what they’re doing.
They understand is that if you pollute enough alfalfa across the country to where it becomes impossible to grow organic alfalfa that isn’t contaminated, perhaps then the organic community will weaken and allow genetically engineered animal feed under the rules of organic production.”
GM contamination is really getting worse by the day. Just a few months ago, Riceland Foods, the largest rice cooperative in the U.S., filed suit against Bayer Corporation after its natural long-grain rice was contaminated with Bayer’s unapproved GM rice—and they won. The jury determined that Bayer caused “tremendous harm to Riceland and the entire industry,” awarding Riceland $11.8 million in compensatory damages and $125 million in punitive damages.
This type of contamination is going on all over the world, which is why we cannot rest on our laurels and must fight against the approval of each and every new GM crop. You cannot contain them. They absolutely WILL contaminate their conventional and organic counterparts, which will mean ultimately the entire food supply will contain GMOs.
New GM Dangerous Described as a Health “Emergency”
Research by Dr. Don M. Huber, an internationally recognized plant pathologist and professor emeritus at Purdue University, has unearthed new evidence of potential harm to both livestock and humans from GM crops. On January 17, he alerted the federal government to a newly discovered organism related to GM corn and soy, which appears to be responsible for plant death, as well as infertility and spontaneous abortion in animals fed GM crops.
In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Huber urged the government to immediately stop deregulation of Roundup Ready crops, and to delay the approval of alfalfa until further research has been conducted.
The letter reads, in part:
“Based on a review of the data, it is widespread, very serious, and is in much higher concentrations in Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans and corn—suggesting a link with the RR gene or more likely the presence of Roundup. This organism appears NEW to science! … I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of a high-risk status.
In layman’s terms, it should be treated as an emergency.”
Unfortunately, his strong words fell on deaf ears, and GM alfalfa was approved anyway. I urge you to watch the video by clicking on this link, featuring Dr. Huber. In it he explains the science behind the new organism, and the threat it poses.
Eat “Natural” Processed Foods at Your Own Peril
There’s no doubt in my mind that if you want to maintain good health, you simply must educate yourself about how the foods you eat are produced. When you compare unadulterated, organic foods to conventional processed foods (most of which contain GM ingredients), there’s simply no question that one is real, natural food, and the other is anything but!
Since the U.S. government prevents the labeling of GM foods, it’s imperative to educate yourself on what they are, and to help spread awareness. First and foremost, avoid most processed foods, unless it’s labeled USDA 100% Organic. You can also avoid GM foods that are not found in processed foods, if you know what to look for. There are currently eight genetically modified food crops on the market:
- Sugar from sugar beets
- Hawaiian papaya
- Cottonseed (used in vegetable cooking oils)
- Some varieties of zucchini
- Canola (canola oil)
- Crookneck squash
The free Non-GMO Shopping Guide is a great resource to help you determine which food brands and processed food products are GM-free. Print it out for yourself, and share it with everyone you know. If you feel more ambitious you can order the Non-GMO Shopping Tips brochure in bulk, and bring them to the grocery stores in your area. Talk to the owner or manager and get permission to post them in their store.
Remember, 90 percent of the money Americans spend on food is spent on processed foods, which is a disaster for your health even if you’re buying “natural” processed foods.
And GM ingredients are only one reason for this … many processed foods will also contain any number of other health hazards, including pesticides, antibiotics, hormone-disrupting chemicals, rancid fats, chemical additives, colors and preservatives, and an untold amount of other chemically-derived byproducts and toxins that may or may not claim to be “natural” on their labels.
The 9 Signs of Truly Natural Food
If a “natural” label claim is no measure of food quality, then what is? First and foremost, you’ll want to focus your purchases on items that have no labels at all … namely fresh vegetables, preferably organic and locally grown. Grass-fed, organic meats and raw dairy products are also staples your family can safely invest in. To help you find organically grown, wholesome food in your area, check out these helpful resources:
- Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
- Local Harvest — This Web site will help you find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
- USDA Farmer’s Markets database
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals — The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) — CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
- FoodRoutes — The FoodRoutes “Find Good Food” map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA’s, and markets near you.
- A Campaign for Real Milk — To help you find resources for pasture-fed, unprocessed, raw dairy products.
Next, whether you’re shopping at a supermarket or a farmer’s market, here are the 9 signs of a high-quality, healthy food:
1. It’s grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers (organic foods fit this description, but so do some non-organic foods)
2. It’s not genetically modified, and contains NO GM ingredients
3. It contains no added growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs
4. It does not contain artificial anything, nor any preservatives
5. It is a whole food, and this means it will not have a long list of ingredients (for instance, high-quality almond butter should contain almonds (preferably raw) and maybe sea salt — no added oils, sugars, etc.)
6. It is fresh (if you have to choose between wilted organic produce or fresh local conventional produce, the latter is the better option)
7. It did not come from a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO)
8. It is grown with the laws of nature in mind (meaning animals are fed their native diets, not a mix of grains and animal byproducts, and have free-range access to the outdoors)
9. It is grown in a sustainable way (using minimal amounts of water, protecting the soil from burnout, and turning animal wastes into natural fertilizers instead of environmental pollutants)
When you keep these principles in mind when you shop for food, the definition of the word “natural” on a label becomes a moot point. You needn’t rely on buzz words and other “green” marketing tricks to determine a truly healthy food. Instead opt for the freshest foods in the least processed and least altered forms, and this will almost always be the healthiest choice.