Non-GMO Month

Celebrating Fair Trade Month AND Non-GMO Month!

This October, we celebrate both Fair Trade Month and Non-GMO Month — highlighting two labels you may have seen on food packaging and want to know a bit more about. We believe that transparency in food production and labeling is essential. Shoppers have a right to know if the products they purchase exploit people and planet. Shoppers also have the right to clear on-package labeling, allowing them to find products that align more closely with their values. 

What is “Non-GMO Project Verified”?

GMOs (or genetically modified organisms) are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering, creating combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and/or virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional breeding methods. Farmers were sold on the promise that GMOs would allow them to increase crop yields and reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides. Unfortunately, neither of these promises has proven true. Pesticide and herbicide use are at record highs and continue to climb.  In fact, 150 million additional pounds of herbicides are sprayed in the US each year in order to control the superweeds and superbugs that have developed resistance to the previous year’s chemical cocktails. Farmers have been forced to scale up to industrial levels of mono-crop production in order to remain profitable, squeezing out small diversified family farms. This has led to the collapse of many rural communities, while also diminishing biodiversity, destroying the health of our soil microbiome, causing significant loss of prescious topsoil, sending pollinator health into serious decline, and destroying water quality. These factors all have a significant impact on human health and the health of our planet. 

GMOs are present in over 70% of processed foods, and without a requirement for clear on-package labeling, thanks to the DARK Act, most consumers are unaware and unable to make an informed choice. Thanks to the third-party certification provided by the Non-GMO Project, we now have a way to determine with confidence which products are free from genetically modified organisms. A Non-GMO Project verification means that a product is compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standard, which includes stringent provisions for ingredient testing, traceability, and segregation.


What is “Fairtrade Certified”?

When we buy products from local farmers and producers, it’s relatively easy to ensure that they are produced in a way that supports the health of our environment and the wellbeing of people who labor to produce the food. When we’re purchasing products from afar, particularly those that simply don’t grow in our climate, like coffee, chocolate, and bananas, it can be more challenging to feel confident that these products reflect your values. These industries are typically dominated by profound social, environmental, and economic exploitation. These farmers and workers often live on less than $2 per day and lack access to essentials such as clean water, adequate shelter, and nutritious food. They must often endure unsafe working conditions and forced child labor.

When you see the Fairtrade Mark on a product, you know that farmers were paid at least the cost of production as well as an added Fairtrade Premium to invest in their businesses and communities. You know that child labor was banned and that measures were in place to protect the local environment and water supply. This label also ensures that workers’ rights were upheld and they have the choice to organize and advocate for themselves and their communities. You may notice that there are several different Fairtrade labels. If you’d like to learn more about the various Fairtrade certifications, click here. 

Joisy Tuanama Lumba, a member of the Huingoyacu community of ACOPAGRO Co-op, who grow the Fairtrade cacao in Equal Exchange chocolate chips

Why do we need such labels on food at all?

“Natural” food and “fair” food are big business these days and “greenwashing” has become a serious problem. By making unverified or uncertified claims about how their food is grown or processed (“self-made marketing claims”), some unscrupulous companies capitalize on shoppers’ willingness to pay a bit more for high-quality food that supports both people and planet. In response, there is a sea of different labels popping up with claims that sound really good, but have little backing them up.

So how does an informed shopper know what’s backed up and what’s empty words? Choosing well-recognized, independent, third-party seals on products is the best place to start. Seals like Non-GMO Project Verified and Fairtrade Certified are rigorous standards with meaningful rules that must be followed in order to receive the seal. This may actually require laboratory testing and supply chain transparency that allows for “identity preservation.” That typically requires the strict segregation of ingredients that are compliant with the standards from ingredients that are not.

Both the Non-GMO Project and Fairtrade America are nonprofits driven by their missions to change how food is made in order to better serve people and planet. The Non-GMO Project has been verifying products since 2010 and Fairtrade has been operating internationally since 1989. Both nonprofits publish their Standards on their websites to give shoppers transparency, first and foremost. It also helps to check which brands are using these labels: Brands both large and small voluntarily showcase this compliance by including either the Fairtrade or Non-GMO Project seal on their packaging (and in some cases, both seals). This provides further assurance to shoppers that it’s not a new fad but a sustainability tool used by brands to have a positive impact on people and planet.

Vineyard workers from the La Riojana co-operative in , Argentina

How do Fairtrade and the Non-GMO Project overlap?

The rigorous Fairtrade Standards ban the use of GMO seeds. This is partly because farmers may get stuck in an exploitative cycle when they rely on big agribusinesses for genetically modified seeds, rather than buying seeds from a variety of sources. Furthermore, Fairtrade and others in the field are not yet sure of the impact GMOs may have on the environment, which farmers rely on for their livelihoods.

What you can do?

Shop the labels! All month long, our Co-op will be highlighting products that are Fairtrade Certified and Non-GMO Project Verified. See the Weekly Sales display and the Member Deals display to find many of these items featured at a great price. Also, be sure to check out page 2 of the Addison Independent to find coupons to help take those discounts even deeper.  Support brands working towards a more sustainable future, and try something new!

A few of our favorite local Non-GMO Verified products

Want to learn more?

Get the scoop on Fairtrade. Sign up to receive Fairtrade America’s newsletter and follow them on social media — @FairtradeMarkUS

Follow the Butterfly with the Non-GMO Project. Check out their recipes and like them on social media — @NonGMOProject.


Celebrating Non-GMO Month

October is Non-GMO Month! We’re grateful to be able to offer an ever-expanding list of hundreds of products that are Non-GMO Verified by the certifying body at the Non-GMO Project.  You’ll find many of these products featured in our weekly sale from October 11th – 17th as part of our celebration of Non-GMO Month. The Non-GMO Project Product Verification Program is North America’s only third-party verification for non-GMO food and products. Third-party verification provides the greatest assurance when it comes to product labeling and certifications because it ensures products have been comprehensively evaluated by an independent party for compliance with a standard developed by industry experts and stakeholders. When you’re shopping for non-GMO products at the Co-op, look for the Non-GMO Verified Logo with the butterfly. You can also feel confident that Certified Organic products are GMO-free. 

As we celebrate all things Non-GMO this month, we wanted to take a moment to share a great blog post written by Alli Willis, Communications Director at the Non-GMO Project, about the threat to seed sovereignty caused by the patenting of genetically modified seed:

At the Non-GMO Project, we believe that by encouraging a non-GMO seed supply, we are supporting the restoration of traditional seed breeding and the right of farmers to save and plant their own seeds and grow varieties of their choice. It’s one of our most important principles. But why do we need to restore these traditional farming practices in the first place? One important reason is that some of agriculture’s biggest corporations use patents to control how farmers grow crops.

What are Patents?

Patents are a form of intellectual property rights. In most countries, an inventor who creates a novel product, material, or process may apply for a patent by thoroughly describing their invention, usually with the help of a patent lawyer. Once a patent has been awarded, other people cannot make or sell the same invention until the patent expires.

A patent is different from a trademark—those protect words, phrases, and symbols that indicate the source of goods and distinguish them from others. It is also different from a copyright—those protect certain forms of creative works and expressed ideas.

What Do Patents Have to Do with GMOs?

It is legally possible to patent plants in many countries, including the United States and Canada. Initially, this protected the farmers who create new varieties of crops using traditional cross-breeding methods. If you’ve ever had a Cuties clementine orange or a Cotton Candy grape, you’ve eaten patented non-GMO fruit. Even Honeycrisp apples were patented until the patent expired about a decade ago.

Since the advent of GMOs—plants, animals, microorganisms or other organisms whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering—this same law has permitted chemical companies to patent their GMOs. While chemical companies tell consumers and regulators that their GMOs are the same as conventional crops, they simultaneously tell the patent office that their genetically engineered crops are unique enough to deserve a patent.

It is important to understand that chemical agriculture companies such as Syngenta and Dow do not simply hold plant patents on the finished crop or its seed, but in many cases they hold utility patents as well. They are able to patent specific genes and the methods for altering those genes. They also hold patents on, for example, the Roundup that goes hand-in-hand with Roundup-ready crops. These corporations, therefore, often possess ownership over the entire process of growing food.

The introduction of GMOs expedited the transformation of food from shared resource to patented property. A couple of years ago, a scant seven corporations controlled the majority of the global seed market. Today, following the Dow-Dupont and Bayer-Monsanto mergers, just three companies control about 60 percent of the world’s seed supply.

This imbalance of power is even more pronounced in the ownership of high-risk commodity crops. For example, more than 80 percent of the global corn supply is owned by the very biggest chemical companies. This gives those corporations a disproportionate and even dangerous amount of power over how our food is grown, studied, and regulated.

But What about Patents on Non-GMO Seeds?

Non-GMO seeds can be patented too. The key differences are the number of patents and the degree to which those patents impact large-scale agriculture. Some of the most commonly-patented non-GMO plants are actually flowers, not food. Meanwhile, some GMO-producing corporations hold more than thousands of patents (search here to explore these patents), and they hold them on major commodity crops such as soy and corn.  Do we really want to live in a world where we depend on just a couple companies for the whole world’s seed supply?

At the Non-GMO Project, we do not. We do, however, want to live in a world where individual farmers have the power to collect, crossbreed, and save their own seeds.

What Do Patented GMOs Mean For Farmers?

When farmers choose to plant GMO seeds, they must first sign a technology use agreement or a licensing agreement. These contracts dictate what farmers can and cannot do with the seeds they buy. A typical contract:

  • Forbids saving, cleaning, or sharing seeds
  • Forbids using seeds for research
  • Requires farmers to allow the company to access their land, documents, and sometimes even Internet Service Provider records. 

If you’d like to read a real biotech technology agreement, check out these examples:

These contracts also mean that farmers who violate their agreement—even unintentionally—may face litigation. Monsanto was particularly notorious for suing farmers, even when those farmers did not have an agreement with the company. They’ve even sued individual farm workers just for doing their jobs. These lawsuits are financially disastrous for small farms. Meanwhile, (pre-Bayer) Monsanto has been awarded more than $15 million in judgements against farmers.  

What Does This Mean For Research?

Unfortunately, certain chemical companies have also been known to use their patent ownership to restrict research. Their contracts almost always explicitly forbid farmers to use or allow others to use seeds for research.

When a researcher or university wants to conduct their own study, they need to get permission from the patent holder. This allows the same corporations who make the GMOs to control who is allowed to study the GMOs. Sometimes they forbid research, and sometimes they restrict access to seeds and other materials. Even when research is possible, corporations that own the seeds retain the right to control publishing. When chemical companies dictate who can study their products, truly independent research is not possible.

What Can Consumers Do to Help?

Chemical companies have turned patents and litigation into weapons against farmers big and small. The good news is that as consumers, we have the power to change the way our food is grown and made. By voting with our dollars, we can choose not to support practices that privatize our food supply, hurt small farmers, and restrict the free flow of information. The non-GMO movement is about more than the right to know, it’s also about doing what’s right. If you care about protecting our seed supply against predatory practices and corporate ownership, Look for the Butterfly when you shop.  

Celebrating Non-GMO Month

This October, our Co-op joins over 13,000 other participating grocery retailers across North America in celebrating the 9th annual Non-GMO Month. Created by the Non-GMO Project, this month-long celebration spotlights shoppers’ rights to choose food and products that do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In our Co-op this week, you’ll find a weekly sale featuring a handful of our favorite GMO-free products, plus a coupon in the Addison Independent for $3.00 off any Non-GMO Verified food.

What Are GMOs?

A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology. This creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. The two main traits of GMO plants include glyphosate-based herbicide tolerance (Roundup Ready®), and the ability for a plant to produce its own pesticide.

Are GMOs Safe?

There is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs. According to a 2015 statement signed by 300 scientists, physicians and scholars, the claim of scientific consensus on GMOs frequently repeated in the media is “an artificial construct that has been falsely perpetuated.” To date, there have been no epidemiological studies investigating potential effects of GMO food on human health.

A comprehensive review of peer-reviewed animal feeding studies of GMOs found roughly an equal number of research groups raising concerns about genetically engineered foods and those suggesting GMOs were as safe and nutritious as conventional foods. The review also found that most studies finding GMOs foods the same as conventional foods were performed by biotechnology companies or their associates.

For a comprehensive overview of the available research on GMOs, please download the report “GMO Myths & Truths” published by three leading researchers at Earth Open Source.

More than 60 countries around the world – including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union – require GMOs to be labeled. Globally, there are also 300 regions with outright bans on growing GMOs.

How Common Are GMOs?

GMOs are present in the vast majority of processed foods in the US. Currently, commercialized GM crops include soy, cotton, canola, sugar beets, corn, papaya, zucchini, and yellow squash. Products derived from these GM crops include amino acids, alcohol, aspartame, ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, citric acid, sodium citrate, ethanol, flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), high-fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lactic acid, maltodextrins, molasses, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sucrose, textured vegetable protein (TVP), xanthan gum, vitamins, vinegar, and yeast products.

How Do GMOs Affect The Environment?

Over 80% of all GMOs grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance. As a result, use of toxic herbicides like Roundup® has increased 15-fold since GMOs were introduced. GMO crops are also responsible for the emergence of resistant super weeds and super bugs which can only be killed with ever more toxic poisons like 2, 4-D (a primary ingredient in Agent Orange). These chemicals also pose a threat to beneficial insects like pollinators, which are critical to much of our food supply.

In March 2015, the World Health Organization determined that the herbicide glyphosate (the key ingredient in Roundup®) is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

GMOs are a direct extension of chemical agriculture and are developed and sold by the world’s biggest chemical companies. It’s also important to note that the companies who produce these chemicals are also the same companies developing the GMO crops that require their use. The long-term impacts of GMOs are unknown, and once released into the environment, these novel organisms cannot be recalled.

How Do GMOs Affect Farmers?

Because GMOs are novel life forms, biotechnology companies have been able to obtain patents which restrict their use, banning farmers from saving, replanting, exchanging, and selling seeds as they have done for millennia and upon which their livelihoods depend. As a result, the companies that make GMOs have the power to sue farmers whose fields become contaminated with GMOs, even when it is the result of inevitable drift from neighboring
fields. GMOs, therefore, pose a serious threat to farmer sovereignty and national food security. They also pose a threat to an organic farmer’s organic certification status. As a result, many organic farmers fear for their livelihood and their ability to fill consumer desire for organic products.

An additional threat to food security is posed by GMO crops because their seeds are identical clones lacking genetic variation. As GM crops become increasingly common, this narrow germplasm leaves the world with severely
limited crop diversity. When drought, flooding, blight, or another source of plant disease comes along, this lack of diversity leaves us vulnerable to large-scale crop collapse.

Are GMOs Labeled?

An overwhelming majority of consumers in Vermont and across the US have long been rallying for clear, simple, on-package labeling so that they can know at a glance if a product was produced with genetic engineering. In July of 2016, Vermont became the first state to make it happen as our groundbreaking GMO labeling law went into effect. The law required mandatory labeling of food for retail sale if produced with genetic engineering (GE) and banned the use of the label “natural” for food made with GE ingredients. The rollout was off to a smooth start and it felt like a significant victory for transparency in food labeling and consumers’ right to know.

Unfortunately, our celebration was short-lived. Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) proposed a compromise GMO labeling bill (S.764) nicknamed the DARK (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act. Vermont’s leaders fought hard to defeat the DARK Act as it moved through the House and Senate but despite their best efforts, the proposal passed both the Senate and the house. It was delivered to the White House on July 19th and was signed into law shortly thereafter. In a nutshell, this law dissolved Vermont’s labeling law and falls well short of consumer expectations.

This law leaves a significant number of GE products unlabeled due to a definition of GE food which ultimately excludes some sugars, oils, and corn products. Companies are also able to opt out of clear, accessible on-package labeling by using digital “QR” codes that are unreadable by approximately half of rural and low-income Americans without access to smartphones or cell service. There are no penalties for lack of compliance, and no authority to recall products that are not properly labeled.

We’re deeply disappointed to see Vermont’s strong labeling law replaced by the DARK Act, but we also recognize that we should all be incredibly proud of what we accomplished over the past few years. Today, if you go into grocery stores in Vermont and across the nation you will find genetically engineered foods labeled for the first time – Vermont was a driving force in making that happen! National food manufacturers like Campbell’s and Dannon announced that they will continue to label their products, and others are expected to follow suit. In the end, a lot more people know what is in their food because of what we managed to accomplish here in Vermont.


Avoiding GMOs at the Co-op

The fight for meaningful and clear food labels will continue. In the meantime, if you wish to avoid GMOs while shopping in the Co-op, look for products bearing a certified organic label and/or products bearing the third-party certification of the Non-GMO project. Ask questions about where food comes from and how it is made. Perhaps the product has been imported from one of the 60-plus countries around the world that have banned GMOs. Or, perhaps it’s a local product from a small farmer or producer that may not bear an organic or non-GMO label, but can assure you that their products are grown or produced without the use of GMOs.

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