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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




Joseph says ...
this is all a bit crazy.. on one side you have the OCA lambasting all of you(WFM, Stoneyfeild, etc,) the other side is stoneyfeild and their hurt feelings about how the OCA has protrayed them in this whole mess and heres Whole Foods somewhere in the middle. Seemingly supporting the way OCA portayed them and in support of COEX with GMO and applauding the USDA for wanting it.. yet saying "take action" against this monster that will kill us all.. as a consumer and an organic supporter this seems like NONE OF YOU CAN BE TRUSTED to tell us the truth. who do you trust when all of you have the upper hand and we can only believe what you say due to the fact that theres no legal information about the trials that have happened to get this whole subject to this point. the OCA has no place for comments on their pages because it seems they dont wanna hear what we have to say.. at least you do.. ita amazing how far ahead of us europe is at the moment with its food standards and how we choose to just ignore them almost completely. i just wish there was a REAL method for finding who is actually telling the truth, just like it would be nice to be able to REALLY tell what foods are safe and wont grow you an extra head. regardless of whose wrong or right in the situation tho, i think the Stoneyfeild letter was right in saying that the voices of all of you and us needs to be unified and stop pointing fingers at each other in order to accomplish anything.
02/07/2011 2:51:08 PM CST
David Gibson says ...
Why can't they conditionally regulate it, with the condition being that EVERY PRODUCT that contains GMO ingredients is labeled so that consumers can be aware of and choose Non-GMO? It is unacceptable to me that Whole Foods and other Organic companies would support the partial-deregulation of GMO crops, knowing full well that once GMO crops, with GM genes are planted, those Genetically Modified genes will cross-contaminate any and all other plants they come in contact with, near or far. This is not acceptable, and I will no longer shop at your store. Start by testing and labeling EVERY PRODUCT sold at Whole Foods Market for GMOs. Let your customers decide what they want to buy, by properly informing us of every product that contains any GMOs. Thank you, Former Customer David Gibson
02/04/2011 2:08:00 PM CST
adelide says ...
Just like humans, these agricultures need some new treatment as the weather condition and factors affecting the growth and production are not the same as before. Many people took food essentials and medicine for protection. Crops and the like should also take what they need, but not to make them unnatural.
01/26/2011 1:01:17 AM CST
Lew W says ...
In going over the comments section, more than 90% of the posts by individuals since USDA approval have been very negative towards WFM, most either calling for boycotts or simply stating refusal to shop there anymore. oooooopps! WFM soldout a while ago, now they're in bed with the beast. Let's make them regret this move. Their stock price hasn't been affected yet, but I'm sure if this info really got out and went viral it surely would be. Hey, let's all short their stock (bet on it dropping in value) and then spread the word -- voraciously! Then all the money we make could be used to bolster REAL non-GMO advocacy campaigns. Call your broker then get out into the blogosphere!
01/28/2011 2:50:09 AM CST
Josee Roy says ...
What do you recommend to do as a Canadian? I support any non-GMO action! out with bully Monsanto!
01/21/2011 10:09:48 PM CST
et says ...
Non-production is the only option for GE alfalfa. Look at all the other failed attempts at containment of GE crops - flax, herbicide resistant weeds etc.
01/25/2011 12:18:57 AM CST
Toni Reita ND says ...
GMO Engineered Poisons are found in common everyday foods such as, infant formula, salad dressing, bread, cereal, hamburgers and hotdogs, margarine, mayonnaise, cereals, crackers, cookies, chocolate, candy, fried food, chips, veggie burgers, meat substitutes, ice cream, frozen yogurt, tofu, tamari, soy sauce, soy cheese, tomato sauce, protein powder, baking powder, alcohol, vanilla, powdered sugar, peanut butter, enriched flour and pasta and hundreds of things that you would never suspect. The good news is that you can Vote With Your Dollars and say a loud NO to GMO! Tell them you're not buying their Frankenfood and pesticides. When purchasing fresh natural fruits and vegetables, these labels will help you avoid GMO like the poison it is! These labels are for US markets, if anyone has information for other markets, it would be helpful to other readers. Conventional Food Labels, grown with herbicides, pesticides and harmful fertilizers, have four digits on their label and start with the digit 4. Such as 4922. Organic Food Labels, are five digits and starts with number 9, such as 99222. You can feel safe to grab all foods with this label, it's organic and safe to eat or serve to your family and animals. Genetically Modified Labels, start with the digit 8, as in 89222. This is important to know as it clearly identifies the product as GMO. You can drop it and run! Don't forget to tell the supermarket manager why you won't buy GMO. I find managers are interested and more than concerned about what consumers want. They will not continue to stock their shelves with products that consumers reject. If we are to reclaim our health, we must reject GMO. If we don't vote with our dollars now, later there will be no option but GMO. Stay Healthy! Toni
01/29/2011 9:42:46 PM CST
Kallen Diggs says ...
It is sad that Whole Foods has sold their soul to Monsanto. Despite Monsanto being the god of the majority of crops, we need to find a way to put an end to them. Let's learn how to grow our gardens whether you live in the city, suburbs, or countryside (there are ways....make Google your friend). Let's depend on our reliable sources like NaturalNews.com, Eden Organic, OCA, and others. While Trader Joes and some other growing health food stores and supermarket chains may be a good grocery shopping alternative if we don't stop Monsanto; then eventually they will buy out Trader Joes as well as any other store that attracts the majority of health conscious customers. Let's either put a stop to Monsanto or be independent from shopping at supermarkets.
02/20/2011 7:54:24 PM CST
toby raven says ...
i wonder why we need to make space at the table for foods that are scientifically proven to be detrimental to our bodies, the soil, and the animals we share this earth with? we need to clean the table, clean our bodies, honor our earth and stop trying to rationalize obviously unhealthy choices. it doesn't matter how much money is paid to a field whose soil is dead. the soil is dead and money is not edible. this is all silly in the extreme and we can all do better.
02/06/2011 3:14:48 PM CST
LWR says ...
BETRAYED. Either someone had their life threatened by the Gestapo known as "Monsanto" or someone's getting a nice fat paycheck under the table. I'm going to guess: SELLOUTS.
01/27/2011 9:01:47 PM CST
Danielle says ...
You're wrong! You do have options, you do have choice, its just that you've chosen not to have options and exercise no choice. A few things you could do would be. You could lobby for labels. You cold rally your customers (That you know full well dont want GMO's and would support you) You could sue the USDA based on freedom of enterprise. And you could voluntarily label if all else fails. But NO you've chosen to lie back and let this travesty occur. Be what you claim to be; a Whole Foods Market. Support your customers just as weve supported you. Were not asking you to be anything more than what you've claimed to be all these years. Just be an active member of our community thats dedicated to Organic Whole Foods. You know GMO's are harmful to the environment, to humans, to animals and insects. There is no plus in accepting the USDA's mandates. Please take a stand.
01/29/2011 1:16:40 AM CST
Hiltrud Jones says ...
Coexistance? Impossible (google GM canola)!!! Nice deal - Monsanto & Co get even more control over the world's food supply, farmers are getting compensation for the increased health risk. May I ask where the consumer is standing??? We are the ones who have to eat these Frankencrops or the animals fed with them. Where is your common sense? Has it become reality so soon that Monsanto & Co are dictating what we are eating and what not? GM Alfalfa release (and subsequent increase in Roundup use)despite newest scientific evidence showing that glyphosate does NOT leave the soil clean but is hanging around for years, causing SDS (sudden death synrom) in follow-up crops. Who could be so stupid to believe that coexistance is possible? There are plenty of examples. Mexico refused GM corn but yet they have Frankencorn crosspollinating their heirloom species. Canada lost most of their organic canola after GM canola was introduced, and almost a thousand farmers filed class action suit against Monsanto & Bayer for their losses. The plaintiffs state that the defendants "knew, or ought to have known, that their canola would spread adventitiously". Canadian farmers are losing millions of dollars by not being able to sell their contaminated crops. They are paying up now for believing in GM heaven. Europe is still steadfast but under constant bombardement of Monsanto (have we read the cable on WikiLeaks, in which the US Ambassador in France planned ‘retaliation’ against France and the EU over a ban on Monsanto's GMO Corn?). I hope Europe stays steadfast and true in the protection of their citizens' rights to clean water and food! US consumers are involuntarily in the greatest field study EVER conducted. Has anybody thought about what will happen when all organic crops are finally contaminated, all major food crops are solely GM crops, and suddenly one ore more of these major crops fail(yes, that happens to GM crops too!)? Brave new world!!!
01/27/2011 9:29:20 PM CST
Jeff says ...
You are guilty for crimes against nature. If we, the little people are expected to do all the fighting while big business like you throws in the towel, we may lose. Thanks for fighting the good fight. (I used to work for your company. Now I won't even shop there.)
01/30/2011 10:57:09 AM CST
Liz says ...
I think it's so sad how our society wants cheap food but spends its good money on entertainment. People complain about spending 10 bucks on a organic chicken that will feed their whole family but easily spend $20 on a movie, popcorn and soda. If the demAnd for cheap food wasn't there the GM food wouldn't either. People that care go to these websites and educate themselves and all the comments are preaching to the choir. My congressman is for it and I can write him over and over and I get the form letter back. People think I am crazy whn I start talking about and want to ignore the problem our govt has allowed to go on in this country.
01/22/2011 6:43:16 AM CST
Barbara Bach Sternberg says ...
Urgent Action needed to support Organics and non-GE crops!
02/01/2011 9:00:54 PM CST
richard t.krause-sun says ...
its interesting....baby food for instance,mothers thinking that thier babies will be benefitted by consuming organic,and that the pre-born will be fed better in the womb,and then they will have better health and immunity,and this baby food industry is a huge aspect of the organic industry as a whole,for those who are consious consumers at birth will most likely be organic consumers for life,and will wander into thier local whole foods market to vote with thier dollars that they believe in the movement and support the vegan ceo and the workers who are loving thier job,and all the matrix of how it supports the local,and sustainable agriculture through out the nation and planet....compromise,and co-exsistence....what was the threat?....your too big to STOP allowing any gmo product to be profited off of the $9 billion usd a year,probably yes,you are FORCED by business itself to stay in the biz of competition with the other big giants,to get your votes,you lure them in with what organic products you offer,juxtaposed against this frankenfood back round of mainstream monsanto artisanal creations....allowed to sell your countercultural,anti big corporate items....this is the turning point of WFM....you could care less if the consumers boycotted or girlcotted-your too big to fail now,we built you up for these 30 years,your established and so much so you think double think that greenwashing your customer base with such absurd propaganda some Orwellian modus operandi,the only thing that would work it seems is if the workers all striked and demanded that they who represent the company,and see it as thier "job"...thier "job" is basically working for monsanto,under the front of wfm....or force john Mackey to resign or give the ceo reigns to someone else who would lead the next level charge....realistically,that might be the only thing to take the wfm to the next level of Integrity and Honour
02/02/2011 9:38:32 PM CST
Robin OGrady says ...
Will Whole Foods be starting an online petition drive?
01/20/2011 4:33:14 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
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
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