Nature’s Path CEO Arran Stephens impassioned talkon GMOs

Arran Stephens is one of the great persuaders on organic agriculture. He runs North America’s largest organic cereal manufacturer. Here are his comments from a recent rally against Monsanto in Vancouver– including how to shop for non-GMO foods.

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Arran’s speech at the March Against Monsanto, 25 May 2013:

My Mum and Dad farmed sustainably on Vancouver Island in the 1940’s and ’50’s. While helping my dad spread seaweed from the beaches on our fields and planting corn, he told me, “Always leave the Soil better than you found it”.
My wife and I, our several children and team have, over the decades, built a legacy organic food company that employs hundreds of valued team members in several communities on the principle of the triple bottom line: socially responsible, environmentally sustainable and financially viable.

We are not anti-business so long as the enterprise is guided by principles and ethics, but we are against business if it hurts people, our farmland, our choices and our planet.

In 1994, I first learned about the gene-splicing technology and the first genetically engineered commercial product from Calgene, called the FlavrSavr tomato, which had genes from a flounder inserted into the DNA of a tomato to give it a longer shelf life. Now, being a staunch vegetarian for ethical reason since 1964, I was aghast. I did not want to eat this frankenfood tomato with a fish gene. What are the ethical dimensions of this corruption of Nature? Thankfully, consumers rejected these franken-tomatoes and they are no longer on the market.
From then until now, and especially since independent study after independent study has shown serious health and
environment consequences of GMOs, I have been an implacable foe of the unwilling genetic engineering of our food supply.

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. This technology creates new species of plants and animals not found in nature, created in laboratories. Like crossing a dog and a cat, for example. Inserting BT toxic bacterium into the dna of say corn, or soy, or alfalfa so it will kill insects, has a cumulative and negative effect on humans, and creates super pests. Once released into nature it is very difficult to recall them. It’s like opening Pandora’s Box. In 1994 I said very loudly, “There’s no wall high enough to keep out GMOs”.

There are three main types of GMOs. One has insecticide toxin spliced into the seed’s genetic code. The second has genes spliced with glyphosate herbicide resistance, and the third has both. So when you plant it in a field and saturate that field with pesticides and herbicides, everything in that field dies (in theory). Everything, except for the Genetically modified soy, or corn, or canola, or whatever.

Animal studies show that GMOs cause : cancers, ulcers, acute signs of early aging, reproductive and growth problems. GMO toxins and herbicide residues are already in our bodies, and increase as we continue consuming foods which have been genetically engineered, and doused with herbicides. In a 2011 study from the Scientific Journal Reproductive Toxicology, 93% of fetal blood tested contained GMO toxins. This is dangerous and if you are a mother, you should be concerned, if not downright angry..
More than eighty percent of all food sold in Canadian supermarkets contain these GMOs. Eighty percent! And nobody knows about it because they are not labeled! 64 countries require GMO labeling or have an outright ban. 64 countries including such “Progressive” Nations such as China and Russia – require GMOs to be labeled. Why not Canada?

My family has been at the forefront to label GMOs in North America. We are Canadians, living here in Vancouver and Victoria, but so far, the fight to label has been in the US. This is a problem affecting everybody, everywhere. Your coming out today is a sign that Canada too is waking up.

Let me tell you about a grandmother called Pamm Larry in California. Pamm presented a proposition to label GMOs called Proposition 37. My family heard about this and contributed significantly to help Pamm spread the word and have all foods containing GMOs labeled. We figured that if California got this passed, it would spread like a fire across North America. Other companies and individuals joined us and we raised 3-4 million dollars for prop 37, for the right to know.

Advance polls indicated that Californians wanted it and Prop 37 was going to pass with a landslide. But guess what happened in the last 6 weeks of that grass roots
campaign? Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, Post, DuPont, Bayer, Pespico, Cascadian Farms, Kelloggs, Kashi and others donated almost 50 million dollars to defeat labeling. Those big companies and big companies posing as little companies do not want consumers to know what we are eating. They outspent the grassroots pro-labeling initiative by 10 to 1 after waging a very dirty, fearful and deceitful media campaign. But guess what? They didn’t win the vote by tenfold. The final vote came down to 48.5% for labeling GMOs and 51.5% against.

It wasn’t technically a win for Consumer Rights this time BUT it was a victory in that 6,000,000 people voted FOR labeling. That represents a ten-fold increase in awareness of this dangerous and unsustainable technology.

We are awakening and we are the droplets of water in the tides that are turning. Just this past week in Connecticut, the House approved a pro-labeling bill that went to the Senate which voted to approve it 35 to 1: Democrats and Republicans together. Concerned Citizens in Washington State and Vermont have bills on the table as we speak.

My good friend Dr. John Fagan, an independent geneticist and one who is against genetically engineering our food, says, “I spoke with people involved in the Washington State initiative just yesterday and they are confident that they will win as well. And Vermont’s lower house has passed their bill. It will be early next year when the Vermont Senate and the Connecticut House will vote. It is believed that, if these three states succeed, the FDA will take action on the Federal level.”

Isn’t the Canadian government supposed to protect us citizens? Don’t we have the right to know what we are eating? Must we teach ourselves where to shop, how to shop, and what to buy? Apparently so. Make your voice heard, ask your local politicians for help, speak out to our schools. In a world where voting with your hard-earned money can be an act of protest, buy from local farms and markets whom you trust. Be defiant, plant seeds, grow your own.

Here are some shopping tips:
Avoid “Natural” food if that’s the only claim. By itself, “Natural” means nothing nowadays. “Natural” now means grown with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers. There are no rules or laws governing the term.

Foods bearing the Canada Organic Seal can be trusted. Organic is a legal definition and a traceable system, with the force of law behind it.

Now there’s a new food label called Non-GMO project verified. Non GMO Verified products have been third-party tested to contain zero to a maximum GMO threshold of 9/10 of a percent. If you see this verification Seal on your food packaging, you can be assured that the food has been tested and has not exceeded the .9% threshold, compared with a GMO product that could be anywhere from 60% to 100% contaminated. It’s a step in the right direction. However, it is not all that great. Harmful and unsustainable toxic agricultural chemicals are still allowed with this label, just not GMOs. The trouble with this label is that some companies are using it to greenwash their products. It is no where near as good as organic.

Organic has always been non GMO, and will always be non-gmo! If in doubt, buy certified organic. Organic automatically means GMO FREE — PLUS grown sustainably and organically. Organic is quantum leaps ahead of all other label claims. The organic method of agriculture and production is your best bet to keep our waters, lands and soil pure—what to speak of our bodies.

Think of the GMO crop field – barren of bees, beneficial insects and microorganisms, silent except for farmers in biohazard suits spraying toxic chemicals on crops. Now see an organic one. See a world where the bees are buzzing and the soil is naturally replenished. See the world where food is democratic, where the seeds are free and unpatented (if farmers are allowed to save them) and grow again and again and again. When you buy Organic, you support this virtuous circle.

Now think about this: if a Canadian commits suicide, it will make the news. In india, more than 250,000 cotton farmers have committed suicide after their GMO cotton crops failed and the cost of GMO seeds, pesticides and herbicides exceeded their revenues, and its almost totally unknown in the West. One Indian cotton farmer commits suicide every thirty minutes. The usual method of suicide there is by drinking glyphosate herbicide. Don’t let them fool you, herbicide is a poison. Don’t use it on your weeds. Dig them out, mulch them out, but don’t spray that poison for others to breathe and touch.

If consumers (you and me) can get our government to label gmos, people will likely stop buying them. This is what happened in Europe, and why GMO food failed totally there.
We need to do the same. This is what all the giant agrichemical companies are terrified of. Demand GMOs to be labeled. If China and Russia and 62 other countries have done it, we can too. Nestle just recently caved into consumers in South Africa who demanded that their baby food be GMO free. Why did Nestle do this? Because a concerned group of citizens demanded it.

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Like in S. Africa, we can do the same here in Canada. We must! We are the voice! We have the right to know what’s in our food! What do we want: Labeling. When do we want it: Now.

Vandana Shiva says, “The growing of our food should be an act of love”.

And as Grandpa says “Always leave the soil better than you found it”

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About Urban Food Revolution

Peter Ladner is a former Vancouver city councilor, Metro Vancouver vice-chair and business owner who is currently a weekly columnist at Business in Vancouver newspaper and a regular contributor to crosscut.com, a Seattle-based online news service. He is the author of The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way we Feed Cities, published by New Society in November, 2011. For the past two years he has been a Fellow at the SFU Centre for Dialogue researching, teaching and organizing public events around the theme Planning Cities as if Food Matters. He was first elected to Vancouver City Council in 2002, was re-elected in 2005 and ran for mayor in 2008. He is a former member of the TransLink Board, and was vice chair of the Metro Vancouver Board. Peter has been the publisher, president and part owner of the Business in Vancouver Media Group, which he co-founded in 1989. He has a lifelong interest in growing food. As a city councilor, he worked with the Vancouver Food Policy Council in initiating the city’s program to add 2010 food-producing community garden plots by 2010. He is vice-chair of the The Natural Step Canada, part of an international organization that advances sustainability in communities and corporations. He has a B.A. from UBC and did graduate work at the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning. He and his wife Erica have four adult children.
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