As you know, I was a big supporter of the California GMO labeling campaign, and while we lost the vote by an incredibly narrow margin last November, Proposition 37 catalyzed an enormous amount of awareness across the US.
More people are now aware of GMO’s than we could possibly have ever reached through educational efforts alone, investing the same amount of money that we invested in Prop. 37. It really marked the beginning of the end for GM foods in the US.
Jeffrey Smith, who is one of the leaders in educating people about the concerns and dangers of GMOs, has been at it for about 17 years. He believes we are now at the most critical stage in the history of GMO activism in the United States.
“We’ve now hit new stages of what I call the tipping point of consumer rejection,” he says. “And it follows very logically from Prop 37. Let me explain what I mean by a tipping point, and then I’ll explain exactly where we are in that process.
In January 1999, the biotech industry boldly predicted that within five years 95 percent of all commercial seeds in the world would be genetically modified and patented.
They did not anticipate the gag order of a scientist being lifted three weeks later in Europe. A firestorm of media reported on his results of a GMO-feeding study. Over 700 articles were written within a single month in the UK.
In 10 weeks, the tipping point of consumer rejection was achieved in Europe – heralded not by the European Commission banning GMOs, but by Unilever banning GMOs, then Nestlé, and then virtually everyone in Europe because they realized that using GM ingredients had become a marketing liability. This is what we call a tipping point.”
US Now Reaching the Tipping Point
In the US, we saw a tipping point against Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) when it got kicked out of Walmart, Starbucks, Yoplait, and Dannon.
This was not due to any action taken by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but occurred when mothers across the nation became aware of the cancer risks associated with milk from cows treated with bovine growth hormone.
Now, the tipping point of consumer rejection of genetically engineered foods in the US is almost here.
A clear sign of this occurred last year, when the president of Whole Foods confessed that when a product becomes verified as Non-GMO or GMO-free, sales leap by 15-30 percent. Of all the categories of health and wellness claims, such as “gluten-free,” etc, “GMO-free” products have the most rapid growth in sales.
“This shows an enormous desire and demand for non-GMO products,”Smith says. “There are now 10,000 products in our NonGMOShoppingGuide.com database that are verified as non-GMO, and that’s expanding every day.”
“It’s actually happening in a big way. The next stage of the tipping point was heralded by a New York Times article1 on the 27th of May. If you were to read it from the perspective of a food product manager, you would realize the absolute need to make a decision.
I call it the stage of “awake and scramble,” where they wake to the fact that the GMO movement is in place. It’s not going away. And if they want to participate, they got to scramble for non-GMO ingredients now because they may not be able to get it later.”
Signs of the Times
The article touched on a number of vital signs of progress in the movement against genetically engineered foods, including:
- The March Against Monsanto in 52 countries by more than two million people
- Labeling laws proposed in more than two dozen states, which subsequently passed in Connecticut and Maine. Washington State will probably pass a GMO labeling bill as well this fall
- Hundreds of companies have enrolled in the Non-GMO Project, and some non-GMO companies fret they may lose their sources of non-GMO ingredients to the new-comers
- Farmers now receive more non-GMO premiums
- Some companies are already going overseas to get non-GMO ingredients
Besides that, Target has announced that its own brand will be non-GMO in 2014. Ben & Jerry’s will be non-GMO by the end of this year, and while Chipotle’s restaurants are working toward a non-GMO menu, they voluntarily started labeling in the meantime. There’s also been more news coverage on the dangers of GMOs. According to Smith:
“The next stage of the tipping point is coming up very soon. It is called the battle for market share.”
The Battle for Market Share—Ready, Set…
The battle for market share begins the moment a mainstream food company that is not just sold in Whole Foods or a natural food chain puts a “Non-GMO Project Verified” sticker on its package and places it on the shelf next to a popular GMO-containing counterpart.
“This could happen at any time. It’s expected as early as August. Once it happens, the stopwatch starts ticking,” Smith says. “If we can move the sales in the direction of the Non-GMO Project Verified product and the other one starts reducing market share, it becomes the sell signal for the entire industry. If there’s a delay, if there’s no change in there, then the tipping point may stall and companies may use that as an excuse to say, “Well, maybe this will go away or be firewalled into the natural food space.”
The Institute for Responsible Technology began a massive campaign this summer to drive the non-health conscious shopper – the Walmart and Safeway shopper – into the non-GMO product category by focusing on the following four categories:
- Mothers. Moms may sometimes not switch their own diet for themselves but they’re dedicated when it comes to protecting their children, and there’s ample evidence showing that children are most at-risk from GE foods. An impressive 1.7 million people watched Jeffrey Smith’s film “Genetic Roulette” during free-showing weeks in 2012, and many of them were parents, who immediately acted on the information and saw the results for themselves. Says Smith:
“I was speaking at MIT recently and someone from the audience said, “We saw the film. Before that, my six-and-a-half-year old was violent and out of control. They wanted to take him out of school and actually label him retarded. After changing his diet, a month later, I had a new child. All of those problems went away.” We’re getting that information out to the moms.”
- The sick, and their doctors. Mounting research has linked GE foods to a number of diseases and disorders. Studies are also implicating two of the main toxins related to GE foods, Roundup and Bt toxin, to all sorts of diseases.
“I go around the country and ask audiences, “How many of you have significantly removed GMOs from your diet? And then I say, “Okay, tell us all what improvements you’ve noticed.” We hear: allergies; headaches; fatigue; gastrointestinal disorders; kidney- and liver problems; diabetes; high blood pressure; skin problems; aggression; depression; infertility.
Someone said, “My client couldn’t get pregnant for five years, switched to a non-GMO diet, and was pregnant three weeks later. Another woman said, “My four-year-old started talking.” We hear from parents of autistic kids –even from an autistic person directly – who told me when they switched to a non-GMO diet, the symptoms alleviated. An autistic man in his 60’s came up to me and said, “I would never be able to come to this meeting with you had I not changed my diet, because these symptoms were preventing me from this type of social interaction… A lot of people also lose weight when they get rid of GMOs. It’s another main feature that we have to highlight, which we haven’t done a good job at.”
- Religious groups. The Institute is also talking to people of various religious faiths, whose scriptures tell them to respect the natural way of things.
“They realize when they look inside this technology of mixing and matching across kingdoms and species and forcing DNA into new species that have never been there before, that it is against their faith. And then when they see the evidence showing that it’s actually causing health problems, it confirms what they believe. Many of them are getting onboard to direct their congregations to avoid GMOs.”
- Pet owners. Many pet owners will tell you, their animals are just as much part of the family as any child is. And, as with children, animals are also among the most at-risk.
“We are finding – based on the experiences of veterinarians and pet-owners – that animals that eat the byproducts of the human food supply are suffering from the same diseases and disorders that humans are suffering from. We have veterinarians saying that animals and livestock – pets and horses – are all suffering from eating GMOs and improve when they get rid of GMOs,” Smith says.
Vote Non-GMO with Every Purchase
The feedback Smith describes offers strong testimony to the fact that even though it may have looked like we lost the battle when Prop. 37 failed to pass, we really won the war because it triggered this process of rapidly mounting awareness. And with awareness, people are quickly shifting their purchasing habits.
The rapid and dramatic rise in sales of products that are Non-GMO Verified really demonstrates the power you have as a consumer. And this is how we will ultimately win, because most food companies don’t have a particular pro-GMO agenda. They’re just selling what people will buy, and by using the most inexpensive ingredients possible they can increase profits. But if their profits go down due to an undesirable ingredient, they will change it.
So, to keep the momentum going, I urge you to purchase Non-GMO Project Verified foods, and to tell your friends and relatives to do the same. Explain to them why, and point them toward resources if they’re skeptical, or they’re concerned that this is all some over-emotional response that has no basis in science.
“We know that the information that we’re presenting at the Institute for Responsible Technology2 has been tested to verify change in people’s diet very quickly,” Smith says.”I recommend getting involved in our materials—our free newsletter atResponsibleTechnology.org, for example—and sharing that information with others.”