Updated March 22 at 6:45pm

Consumers, foodies drive new awareness of GMOs


PROVIDENCE – In the aftermath of the May 25 “March Against Monsanto” consumer-driven protests which were held here in Rhode Island (in a march from the R.I. Statehouse to Providence City Hall and back again), across the nation and in 36 countries around the globe, many foodies in the Ocean State are beginning to raise questions about the health and safety in the practice of using of genetically modified seeds to grow foods that can withstand repeated doses of herbicides such as glysophate, the main ingredient in Roundup.

Monsanto has patented its GMO seeds and has been aggressive in protecting its legal right to own these seeds and control their use, recently winning a case against an Indiana farmer in the U.S. Supreme Court. The company makes genetically modified seeds for much of the corn, sugar beets and soybeans that are grown in the United States and around the world.

Noah Fulmer, director of Farm Fresh Rhode Island, a local organization whose mission is to grow a local food system that values the environment, health and quality of life of Rhode Island farmers and eaters, said that his organization does not have any formal policy regarding GMOs.

“That said, we are concerned about the private copyrighting of genes within crops that are central to our food supply,” Fulmer said. “We believe that farmers should have the ability to freely save seeds from their harvest for their next planting, and that biodiversity is critical to reducing long-term risk to our food supply.”

Olga Bravo, proprietor of Olga’s Cup and Saucer on Point Street in Providence, said that everything in her kitchen is made from scratch using only the most healthy ingredients she can find, supporting local agricultural. “We are starting to get a lot of questions about GMOs at farmers’ markets,” she said, indicating a growing awareness among consumers.

Bravo said that she was in the middle of reading Michael Pollan’s new book, “Cooked,” as well as his cover story in The New York Times Magazine, “The Secret Life of Germs,” about the importance role that bacteria in the human gut plays in keeping humans alive and healthy. New research published in the April 18 issue of Entropy by Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff found that glysophate may interfere and disrupt the processes of gut bacteria.

Beyond control and ownership of seeds, labeling of food containing GMO products has also emerged as a big consumer issue. In March, Whole Foods, which merchandises more than 3,000 products and 250 brands that are non-GMO verified, announced that beginning in 2018, it would require labels in its stores for foods that have genetically modified ingredients.

In California, a proposition to require labeling of GMO foods was narrowly defeated in 2012.

In Vermont, a GMO labeling law, H-722, the “VT Right To Know Genetically Engineered Food Act,” would require manufacturers to label products that are created either partially or in full from a a genetically modified organism, in now under consideration. Monsanto has threatened the proposed legislation with legal action.

One sign of the growing consumer interest in wanting to know which foods contain GMOs is the new free app for smartphones, Buycott (http://www.buycott.com), which went viral.

The app enables a consumer to scan a product, determine what brand it belongs to, and figure out what company owns that brand, and who owns that company. It will then cross-check the product owners and brands that the consumer wants to know about, such as whether to determine if an item contains any GMO products.

At its peak, Buycott reached No. 10 in the Google Play store and requests exceeded 100 downloads per minute. The volume overwhelmed the server, causing the website to crash. The app is available currently for iPhones, and a version will soon be available again for droids.

Hugh Grant, Monsanto’s chairman and CEO, told Bloomberg News that the protests were a “strange kind of reverse elitism,” saying there was “space in the supermarket shelf for all of us.”


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