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Urgent Action Needed to Support Organics and Non-GE Crops

By Walter Robb & Margaret Wittenberg, January 20, 2011  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Walter Robb & Margaret Wittenberg

Update 1/28/11

We are very disappointed in the USDA’s decision to deregulate GE Alfalfa with no conditions (meaning no restrictions to support coexistence). Planting GE alfalfa without restrictions may cause potential contamination of organic and non-genetically engineered crops. Despite this setback, Whole Foods Market will continue to be strong advocates for non-GE foods, their clear labeling and offering them in the marketplace.
If you've read the recent letter from the OCA we highly encourage you to read this as well. It's a wonderful response to the USDA's decision to deregulate GE alfalfa from the Executive Director of The Non-GMO Project, a non-profit multi-stakeholder collaboration committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. http://www.nongmoproject.org/2011/01/29/team-organic-will-never-surrender-to-monsanto-now-we-continue-the-fight-together/
Please read our subsequent blog post about our concerns and read what Samuel Fromartz's says about the fallout on his Chewswise blog.

---------- We hope everyone reading this will consider taking action immediately (click here to act now) to help ensure both organic and non-genetically engineered (GE) agriculture remain viable options in the U.S. We believe farmers have a right to grow foods without fear of contamination from others’ GE crops—and that consumers have a right to make the choice to buy non-GE products. Seven years ago Monsanto petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to deregulate GE alfalfa which would allow it to be planted anywhere. Now, within a few days, the USDA will announce its decision whether to: 1) fully deregulate GE alfalfa OR 2) conditionally deregulate it by placing certain rules and restrictions on growing GE alfalfa that would minimize or limit contamination of non-GE crops (including organic). This second “coexistence” option is what we are rallying for even though we continue to have reservations about GE crops. The issue with GE alfalfa is the potential contamination of organic and non-GE alfalfa, which is used as a mainstay food for organic and non-GE dairy cows, beef cattle and honey bees. While USDA's decision will be specific to GE alfalfa, it will be a precedent-setting decision for how or whether other genetically engineered foods will be regulated far into the future. We applaud the USDA's historic approach considering deregulation with conditions (or coexistence) as one of the options. By recognizing that cross-contamination of GE alfalfa could impact organic and non-GE farmers and consumers, both domestically and for our export markets, the USDA is acknowledging that organic agriculture has the right to not only survive but to thrive alongside conventional agriculture. So, faced with the choice between full deregulation of GE alfalfa or conditional deregulation of it, our best chance at preserving seed purity, and the future of organic and non-GE agriculture now is to fight for every protection available under the USDA’s conditional deregulation coexistence option.

Contact the USDA, the White House and your Congressperson before Monday, January 24th. Tell them non-GE crops should have a seat at the table! True COEXISTENCE is a must. Ask your congressperson to contact House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas to express support for Secretary Vilsack’s coexistence plan. 

If we raise our voices together, we can make a difference. Send this call to action to everyone you know who is concerned about organics and non-GE crops. Post written by Whole Foods Market leaders Walter Robb, co-CEO, and Margaret Wittenberg, Global VP of Quality Standards & Public Affairs.

Background on the GE alfalfa issue

On December 16, 2010, the USDA released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of Monsanto's genetically engineered Roundup Ready Alfalfa. The EIS was conducted in response to a court decision demanding more thorough analysis of the potential environmental, economic and health impacts of GE alfalfa before approving deregulation. The EIS outlines three options for addressing GE alfalfa: 1.    Fully deregulate it (allow it to be planted anywhere) 2.    Fully regulate it (non-production; USDA has indicated this is not an option it would pursue) 3.    Conditionally deregulate it (allow GE alfalfa to be grown with certain rules and restrictions USDA would impose to minimize or limit contamination of non-GE crops) Shortly after releasing the EIS, USDA indicated their preference for the third option and asked the biotech, non-GE and organic communities to convene to try and find common ground for formulating rules and restrictions under conditional deregulation. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently invited representatives from agriculture, business and consumer organizations to explore coexistence between non-GE proponents and GE proponents.  It showed refreshing leadership after many years of debate that has cost farmers with contaminated crops in this country millions of dollars in litigation over the years. Our non-GE and organic farmers continue to be concerned with crop contamination and market rejection. Independent studies in the U.S. and in other countries on GE crops have documented a long list of reasons for concern, including evidence that these crops lead to herbicide-resistant super-weeds and require the use of more toxic herbicides. As mentioned above, organic alfalfa is used as feed by most organic and non-GE dairies. Also, the policy set for GE alfalfa will most likely guide policies for other GE crops as well. There are rigorous standards in place for USDA-certified organics. We are encouraged that USDA has taken tentative steps and we believe its coexistence plan can support all consumers, farmers and agribusinesses.  We believe true coexistence should include three central issues:

  • The protection of seed purity for all farmers, including organic, so we maintain variety and avoid massive mono-culture;
  • Compensation by the patent holder to the farmer for any losses related to the contamination of his crop; and
  • Public oversight by the USDA rather than relying on the biotechnology industry to voluntarily try to contain GE contamination as the USDA has the authority to protect all US agriculture.
Category: Food Issues




paig292 says ...
WHOLE FOODS MARKET RESPONDS: Thank you for being passionate about genetically engineered (GE or GMO) crops and for expressing your concern about the availability of non-GMO foods. We are very passionate about this too and are extremely upset that our position has been distorted out there. Don’t be fooled by the OCA (Organic Consumers Association) as it often twists the truth, which confuses consumers. This time, OCA is misleading you by implying that we have “surrendered” to Monsanto and “cut a deal” for co-existence and that we’ll receive “compensation.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Whole Foods Market, along with the National Cooperative Grocers Association, the National Organic Coalition, the Organic Trade Association, Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farms, United Natural Foods and many others in the organic community, were trying to secure protections for organic farmers so biotechnology companies for the first time would be held accountable if GE crops polluted non-GE crops and would be forced to pay for the damages. (No money would ever go to us!) We were also pushing for measures to protect seed purity so that non-GE alfalfa supplies could be maintained. Unfortunately, none of those protections were approved as, to our utter disappointment, the USDA decided to completely deregulate GE alfalfa without restrictions. This means farmers will now be able to plant Roundup Ready GE alfalfa beginning as soon as this spring without having to take into consideration its potential to contaminate neighboring organic and other non-GE alfalfa fields intended to be sold in markets demanding non-genetically engineered products. This is a huge loss for organic and non-GE farmers and consumers who want to have access to non-GE foods. For the OCA to widely spread misinformation and lies about Whole Foods Market and other organic companies by saying that we are joining forces with the biotechnology industry (Monsanto) is beyond ludicrous--especially at a time when we all need to come together to support our goal of ensuring the availability of non-GE foods in the marketplace. To help clarify our overall position, we think it is helpful to see how Megan Westgate, Executive Director of the NON-GMO Project, describes the coalition efforts: "Leading up to the ruling, a broad coalition of organic organizations and companies were working around the clock in an attempt to influence the USDA’s decision. The USDA had already made it clear that alfalfa would be deregulated, but hope remained that there might be some way to soften the blow. Organic Valley, Whole Foods and Stonyfield Farm, along with many others in the organic community, were doing everything in their power to secure protections for organic farmers so that if their fields were contaminated once the GMO alfalfa was released, biotechnology companies for the first time would be held accountable for their pollution and would be forced to pay for the damages. These groups were also pushing for measures to protect seed purity so that non-GMO alfalfa supplies could be maintained. Unfathomably, these tireless organic organizations are now being criticized for their efforts. In total denial of the incontrovertible fact that the USDA was never even remotely considering a full ban on GMO alfalfa, some are suggesting that these group’s efforts to make the most of a bad situation *somehow* (though no one is very specific on how, exactly) signals corruption, and are even calling for boycotts. HOW ON EARTH is taking this out on 1200 organic family farmers going to help anything?! This is divisiveness we cannot afford." You can read the full article here: http://www.nongmoproject.org/2011/01/29/team-organic-will-never-surrender-to-monsanto-now-we-continue-the-fight-together/ Additionally, you may have seen strange accusations saying that Whole Foods Market has agreed to sell genetically engineered foods. We haven’t agreed to anything! This is another attempt to twist the facts. The reality is that no grocery store in the United States, no matter what size or type of business, can claim they are GMO-free. While we have been and will continue to be staunch supporters of non-GMO foods, we are not going to mislead our customers with an inaccurate claim (and you should question anyone who does). Here’s why: the pervasive planting of GMO crops in the U.S. and their subsequent use in our national food supply. 93% of soy, 86% of corn, 93% of cotton, and 93% of canola seed planted in the U.S. in 2010 were genetically engineered. Since these crops are commonly present in a wide variety of foods, a GMO-free store is currently not possible in the U.S. (unless the store sells only organic foods.) Since the U. S. national organic standards do not allow the use of GMO ingredients and practices in the growing or production of organic foods, choosing organic is one way consumers can avoid GMO foods. The other is through labeling, of which we are strong supporters. Here is a look at some of the other things we have done on the non-GE front over the past couple of decades: •We have advocated for mandatory labeling of GMO foods since 1992, even before they were made commercially available. •We were founding members of the Non-GMO Project, which works to ensure the sustained availability of non-GMO choices through an industry-wide product standard to create a non-GMO labeling program that can be fully substantiated. •Our 365 Everyday Value® and Whole Foods Market™ brand products are sourced to avoid GMOS, and our partnership with the Non-GMO Project will enable us to verify and label both natural and organic products. In fact, we have enrolled our store brand food products in this pioneering product verification program, which ensures the sustained availability of non-GMO choices through an industry-wide product standard. These include products that natural as well as those that are organic. •Beyond our stores, we have publicly advocated for clear labeling of GE food and shared our concerns that the USDA and FDA’s policies on GE foods are not consistent with our consumers’ expectations. We will continue to work aggressively on this issue because we believe that GMO food ingredients should be clearly labeled, and that consumers who want to avoid them should have an actionable way to do so. While the USDA’s decision will make our work more difficult, we are as committed as ever to ensuring that non-GMO food remains available and we will continue to advocate for our farmers and for our shoppers on this issue.
01/20/2011 3:47:33 PM CST
paig292 says ...
If you've read the recent letter from the OCA we highly encourage you to read this as well. It's a wonderful response to the USDA's decision to deregulate GE alfalfa from the Executive Director of The Non-GMO Project, a non-profit multi-stakeholder collaboration committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. http://www.nongmoproject.org/2011/01/29/team-organic-will-never-surrender-to-monsanto-now-we-continue-the-fight-together/
01/20/2011 4:00:16 PM CST
paig292 says ...
Update 1/28/11: We have seen a few comments about the OCA’s misleading letter about our company. Once again, the OCA has it all wrong. We have done more than any other retailer to educate and advocate on genetically engineered food, and we are deeply committed to preserving our ability to sell non-GE food. Perhaps OCA did not understand our position. We do not have anything to do with big biotech companies’ agenda! As tried and true pioneers of organic, we at Whole Foods Market support the preservation of seed purity, organic integrity and we are advocates of clearly labeling GMOs so that our shoppers can make informed decisions. There are still many unanswered questions about genetic engineering and there is no mandatory labeling and little government oversight of GMOs. That’s why we have spent the last couple of decades working to find a solution to offer non-GMO foods to our shoppers. We do NOT advocate for the USDA to allow the well-funded biotech industry to monitor itself carte blanche without ongoing government oversight. Unfortunately, the USDA presented our industry with two options: total deregulation of GE alfalfa, or deregulation with some conditions to facilitate coexistence and protection of non-GE farmers. We supported a path of coexistence, not because it’s a perfect path, but because it’s the only viable path that would ensure our ongoing ability to provide non-GMO foods. Given the prevalence of GMO crops in the US --93% of soy, 86% of corn, 93% of cotton and 93% of canola seed planted were genetically engineered in the US in 2010 – we did not believe that a complete ban of GE alfalfa or any crop is an option that the USDA would even consider supporting, nor was it even an option. We favor protecting organic and non-GE agriculture’s property rights, and the USDA’s regulatory authority is the best way to meet this goal. Our options were to have a seat at the table (and support coexistence) or to not be represented at all. We chose deregulation with restrictions so that we could represent our company, the organic food community and our shoppers. This does not mean that we have anything to do with big biotech or that we support their agenda.
01/20/2011 4:00:35 PM CST
Robin OGrady says ...
Will Whole Foods be starting an online petition drive?
01/20/2011 4:33:14 PM CST
Michelle Stright-Foto says ...
Americans should have the right to choose what kind of food they consume. Many other countries have banned genetically altered foods and the US should do the same if it cares about the health of Americans, especially our children and future children.
01/20/2011 4:43:45 PM CST
Carole says ...
Good old Monsanto.
01/20/2011 6:21:09 PM CST
M. Stoyshin says ...
I think that Canadians, being consumers of SO MUCH American produce, should also take action and write to congressmen! Texas and California are huge providers .... I'm going to take action - if not for me, for my children and their children...
01/20/2011 6:33:16 PM CST
M. Stoyshin says ...
AND ... Americans should also be aware of the growing trend toward SUPPORTING Organic Farmers ... read this link: Vhttp://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/features/germany-bans-monsanto-s-maize/
01/20/2011 6:37:00 PM CST
Jeannine Bressie says ...
The only option that makes sense is #2,otherwise the U.S.D.A. is giving Carte Blanche to these corporate bullies to continue their quest in destroying the organic food growers of the WHOLE PLANET,and removing our choices for healthy food. Will this government EVER stop pandering to these giants.? ?????
01/20/2011 6:46:21 PM CST
Kathy Potter says ...
I have been researching GMO foods read through the papers on the "say no to gmo website" and find the affects on the digestive tract interesting. I was born in 1964. I had digestive tract issues when I was a child at about age 11. I ended up having a colon resection at age 11. I read my medical records and my intestines had lesions which I find interesting that I had lesions at such a young age. I had multiple intestinal surgeries throughout my lifetime and tumors in my female organs. There is no history of such issues in my family going back as far as the early 1900's. I wasn't able to obviously ask relatives that were born before the 1900's. I am able to maintain a functional life without medication but I am an avid exerciser. I have never been able to have children and I had a hysterectomy at 17 so I have no children to pass this on to or evaluate their health as they grow to compare. My doctors have never been able to explain why this has happened to me so I am still at a loss what caused all of this trauma in my life. I know I can't say absolutely that these types of foods caused these issues however knowing that agriculture had changed during the times I grew up gives me something to think about.
01/20/2011 7:00:44 PM CST
Priscilla Hoke says ...
Food and Drug Administration scratch each others backs. Our food is poisoned so that we need drugs to give us false hope of a full recovery.
01/20/2011 7:06:59 PM CST
Mary says ...
Thanks for posting about this. I just contacted USDA and my congressman. I hope the regulation continues. We don't yet know enough about GE crops, and given their.. virility, we should be careful about releasing them into the wide world where they could take over.
01/20/2011 8:21:32 PM CST
Claudia G says ...
Thank you for this interesting action that I joined. It would be perfect if you have a unified letter to send, which in general has a very big impact!
01/20/2011 9:03:50 PM CST
Malisa says ...
I have expressed my concerns with my Congress Woman and the USDA so far. I will make a call to the White House tomarrow. i hope our voices are heard to all who care of this issue. Thank you for posting this. I am so glad to be able to put myu words in to help. Malisa
01/20/2011 11:06:04 PM CST
Beth Braun says ...
The only responsible position is full regulation and eventual elimination of GM foods. It is inevitable that contamination of organic and other non-GM crops will result if a policy of 'coexistence' is pursued. The only question is how fast the contamination will progress, but it will eventually put organic and sustainable farmers out of business. This will not be good for Whole Foods business. Whole Foods should be using it's market power to convince the FDA that GM food policy must be science based. And the laws of nature, biology/botany cannot be changed by 'coexistence' measures such as buffer zones. It is because Whole Foods has so many GM foods (including GM edamame on the salad bar!), does not label them - in their deli products in particular, and ignores the science of GM foods, that I rarely shop there anymore. It used to be my only source of groceries. The responsibility falls to Whole Foods' customers to persuade, if not pressure, the company to adopt the science-based position on GM foods - and that is - NO, GMOs, and immediate labeling of all GM foods.
01/21/2011 12:52:55 AM CST
Erica says ...
You can find an online petition drive here: http://fdn.actionkit.com/cms/sign/kiss_your_organics_goodbye?referring_akid=.192177.1jOLjK&source=taf All you need to sign the petition is your name, e-mail address and zipcode. :)
01/21/2011 10:05:25 AM CST
Chad says ...
Why should you care? You sell Budweiser and Pabst in your stores. As we all know, Anheuser Busch has gone on record saying that they use GM grain in their brews.
01/21/2011 10:48:17 AM CST
Kim Frazier says ...
Please for the Health of our Nation. We deserve to have the right to have the choice NOT to have our food Contaminated by the choice of others (The Government). We are not science Experiments but that is how we are looked at as. We are like lab rats and we are loosing choices with our food and how we get medical help. When you try to tell people what is happening family members think your talking nonsense cause we have no training in foods or medical but if there was more people to bring these matters to the news media it seems then they would believe it. So stand up for your Health and the Health and well being of your families.
01/21/2011 1:48:14 PM CST
Virginia Pearcy says ...
I am disappointed in WholeFoods' misleading information asking us to support coexistence. Because of the viral nature of GMOs, there can never be coexistence with organic and non-gmo food crops. See more information located at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ronnie-cummins/usda-recommends-coexisten_b_800295.html. Anyone who cares about being able to buy organic produce should NOT support coexistence. They should demand that the USDA REGULATE GMOs.
01/21/2011 3:05:28 PM CST
Chad Ryan says ...
Supporting GMO is not in the best interest of organic farming. Coexistence is how Monsanto killed many seed storing farmers saying Monsanto's seed blew into their fields and got into the seed stores of farmers and they sued the farmers to shut them down. This has happened to to over 200,000 farmers across the US alone. You can't be serious Whole Foods and aligning with Monsanto and legitimizing GMO??? CO-existence with Monsanto whose proven not to care about the farmer in favor of the almighty buck, who can Whole Foods whose base is the organic food movement in any way align with Genetically Modified Foods? I for one will not support Whole Foods if they align with Monsanto and say co-existence is a valid option for organic farming. Did you know Monsanto has bought one of the largest seed stores for organic seeds? Think about it.
01/21/2011 3:11:12 PM CST
Anne Putnam says ...
Those who support a full ban on Monsanto's GE alfalfa rather than the compromise "coexistence" that Whole Foods supports can go to the following site to sign a petition: http://action.fooddemocracynow.org/sign/kiss_your_organics_goodbye/ The Food Democracy Now petition states: "The USDA must immediately ban Monsanto's GMO alfalfa from the market and work to ensure that the organic industry is protected from genetic contamination and loss of profits and stand up for the basic rights for Americans to know what is in their food and how it's produced."
01/21/2011 3:26:26 PM CST
diana van auken says ...
have taken action through the organic consumers association site where you can take action on so many issues as this one.
01/21/2011 3:35:16 PM CST
diana says ...
have taken action through the organic consumers association site where you can take action on so many issues as this one.Please do not include my last name here.
01/21/2011 3:37:11 PM CST
emilia gonzales says ...
Stop altering our food,We dont want genetically altered foods,They wonder why diabities and other illness are becomng more alarming,We have a right to know what we eat.Let our aniamals eat the right food so we eat good foods.I support Organics and non -GE Crops.....
01/21/2011 3:37:34 PM CST
Rachel says ...
I say NO to crappy coexistence. Get rid of these GMO's!! They are hurting our health and many people cannot afford organic. If you call, make your call count and say get rid of all GMO's!! REJECT GMO alfalfa!! Watch "Food Inc" and "The Future of Food" to get an understanding about what exactly is going on in the world of food. I'm surprised WF would take a mediocre stance on this subject!! Animals that have been fed soy are coming up completely sterile by the 3 generation. We are next people!! Google it, you can find out for yourself. There was a study done on hamsters for starters. Good health to all!! Blessings, Rachel
01/21/2011 3:59:24 PM CST