Team Organic will Never Surrender to Monsanto: Now We Continue the Fight, Together

January 29, 2011

By Megan Westgate

I am no stranger to the rush of radical activism, to the satisfaction of identifying an enemy and throwing heart and soul into righteous indignation. In this complicated world, it’s tempting to reduce shades of gray to simple black and white. Sometimes that’s the only way to achieve a reassuring sense that we know where we stand (and therefore who we are). As a college student a decade ago, I devoted endless hours to organizing protests against the Keck Graduate Institute, the first university in the world dedicated solely to biotechnology. When we successfully shut down their inaugural celebration, I wrote about it in the Earth First! Journal. In 2001 I attended the Ruckus Society’s “Biojustice” Action Camp, where I learned about the threats posed by the new science of genetic engineering, and how to scale a building or lock myself to the axle of a car if an action called for those skills.

It was all incredibly exhilarating, and my friends and I did accomplish some things of lasting value, including the protection of what remains one of the largest plots of endangered Coastal Sage Scrub habitat in Los Angeles County. As time passes, though, what I cherish most from my early activist days is not the rush of combat, but the satisfaction I experienced in collaborating with like-minded allies. The true power behind everything we accomplished came from our ability to work together as a team. In the wake of the USDA’s recent decision to deregulate genetically modified alfalfa, it is that power—the power of unification with like-minded allies—that we must seek. The understandable (and completely justified) feelings of anger, frustration and helplessness that the organic community is experiencing must be directed constructively. We are too small and up against too much for there to be any other way forward.

Leading up to the ruling, a broad coalition of organic organizations and companies were working around the clock in an attempt to influence the USDA’s decision. The USDA had already made it clear that alfalfa would be deregulated, but hope remained that there might be some way to soften the blow. Organic Valley, Whole Foods and Stonyfield Farm, along with many others in the organic community, were doing everything in their power to secure protections for organic farmers so that if their fields were contaminated once the GMO alfalfa was released, biotechnology companies for the first time would be held accountable for their pollution and would be forced to pay for the damages. These groups were also pushing for measures to protect seed purity so that non-GMO alfalfa supplies could be maintained. Unfathomably, these tireless organic organizations are now being criticized for their efforts. In total denial of the incontrovertible fact that the USDA was never even remotely considering a full ban on GMO alfalfa, some are suggesting that these groups’ efforts to make the most of a bad situation *somehow* (though no one is very specific on how, exactly) signals corruption, and are even calling for boycotts. HOW ON EARTH is taking this out on 1200 organic family farmers going to help anything?!  This is divisiveness we cannot afford.

Of the whole circular firing squad that’s been exploding in recent days, most shocking to me personally was a statement by Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association that the Non-GMO Project “is basically a greenwashing effort.” Say what?! Cummins goes on to say that the Project is unnecessary for organic products, since they are already “basically free from GMOs,” while “failing to focus on so-called ‘natural’ foods.” Totally wrong on both counts!

First of all, the hard truth is that organic foods are not necessarily “free” of GMOs. While the National Organic Program (NOP) identifies genetic modification as an excluded method, GMOs are not a prohibited substance. This means that although GMO seeds are not supposed to be planted, and GMO ingredients are not supposed to be used, no testing is required under the NOP. With the majority of key crops like soy and corn being planted with GM varieties in North America, contamination of seeds and ingredients is a real risk, even for certified organic products. It is critical to understand that the ONLY way to identify (and control) GMO contamination is through testing, in combination with other best practices. The organic standards do not require testing; the Non-GMO Project Standard does. Over half of the companies participating in the Non-GMO Project produce certified organic products. These companies have chosen Non-GMO Project Verification in addition to their organic certification because they are committed to keeping their products non-GMO, and are concerned that organic certification is not adequate. Many organic companies joined the Project after their internal GMO testing indicated a growing risk of contamination.

With regard to natural products, there are literally thousands of them enrolled in the Non-GMO Project, so I fail to see how we are “failing to focus” on them. As an example, Whole Foods has their entire 365 product line, organic AND natural enrolled in the Non-GMO Project. This commitment means that they are requiring testing of every single GMO risk ingredient used in every single one of their house brand products, both organic and natural. As a founding member of the Non-GMO Project, Whole Foods made a point from the very beginning of ensuring that this program would be available for not only their organic products, but their natural ones, too. Their commitment is exemplary. In fact, it is exactly the sort of positive action step that Cummins called for in his recent article.

Okay, so I’ll admit it—this is where I got really confused. After talking trash about the Non-GMO Project and its founders, Cummins, whose support is important to me, says “We’ve got to concentrate our forces where our leverage and power lie, in the marketplace, at the retail level; pressuring retail food stores to voluntarily label their products.” Oh hey, good idea! Let’s do that! I know: we can create a non-profit to oversee standards, third party verification, and consistent labeling so that consumers can have full transparency about companies’ non-GMO practices. We can call it the Non-GMO Project, and it can be the most effective tool in North America for stopping the unchecked flow of GMOs into natural and organic products. Oh, wait a minute…

Yes, that’s right, how wonderful for everyone—all of that work has already been done. Yay! As a founding board member of the Non-GMO Project, and its first (and only) Executive Director, I have been working on exactly this strategy virtually non-stop for the last four years, along with a huge group of passionate, determined, and highly-principled people and organizations, and I have to admit I feel pretty darn good about what we are accomplishing. I am loath to even dignify the “greenwashing” accusation with a response, but I guess I should.

So please consider this: Since being handed my first article about the deadly impact of GMO corn pollen on monarch larvae in 1999, when I was 19 years old, I have been moved to action on the GMO issue. Following my activism in college, I worked as the Outreach Coordinator at the Food Conspiracy Co-op in Tucson, AZ, where I saw firsthand how much confusion there was in the public about GMOs, and how bad the situation was getting. With the government consistently ignoring consumer calls for labeling, and organic products increasingly at risk, a group of small retailers decided it was time to take matters into our own hands. That was the beginning of the Non-GMO Project, and those of us who started it were motivated by one thing: the desire to make sure that Americans did not lose the right to eat non-GMO food. Our efforts are finally starting to pay off, though the battle is far from over. Because of the Non-GMO Project, hundreds of farmers, processors and manufacturers across North America are learning how to control GMO contamination as much as is possible, and consumers are finally being given an informed choice in the form of the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label. It’s just barely not too late.

I do this work because when I start having children in a few years, I want to make sure that they can eat non-GMO food for their whole lives. I am also doing this because I am a person of exceptional moral integrity who believes it is my duty to do what I can to serve the greater good, and food and health are my passion. This is not an easy undertaking, and it will not succeed without the full support of everyone who cares about stopping GMOs. Since Thursday’s ruling, far too much anger and blame has been directed in entirely the wrong direction. It’s time to take a step back, remember that we are all on the same team, and get smart about our next steps. For my part, I am going to make a donation to the Center for Food Safety, so that they can get the USDA back into court ASAP, and then I’m going to spend the weekend catching up on running the Non-GMO Project. I hope I don’t get waylaid by any more baseless criticism; none of us can afford it. The health of our children, our grandchildren, and our environment is at stake, so let’s take good care of each other and give this our best.

51 Responses to “Team Organic will Never Surrender to Monsanto: Now We Continue the Fight, Together”

  1. vkm416 Says:

    Thank you so much for clearing up some confusion on this and putting everything into perspective. I appreciate so much the work you and others have put into this effort. I have only been aware of an on board with the NonGMO Project for a little less than a year. I plan to make a donation as well to contribute to the productive things we CAN do to stand up for what’s right concerning food sources for current and future generations. Time to re-focus an get busy!

  2. Lauriesfoodblog Says:

    Thank you so very much for posting this…As you can imagine, fellow passionate real-food rights advocates who received word of the “elite” coalition with Monsanto were devasted…

    I certainly rode a roller coaster before regaining myself and remembering that dis-connection leads also to the very dis-ease we are trying to prevent. What is more, I know that pushing against with any focus other than what I want only serves to cloud my inspired action and empower what I don’t want…

    Reading your blog and the post from Whole Foods, restores faith and vigor…as you say…it is “just barely not too late” and I know we can do this, together! Onward!

    On behalf of myself and my children, thank you again for all of your cherished and invaluable efforts!

  3. EV Says:

    Dear Megan…

    I respect your opinion, but your heartfelt reply and explanation of what you have accomplished in the past does not square with the situation at hand and what has been accomplished by “compromising” with Monsanto, who is clearly the ‘devil’ company if ever there is one!

    I have three grandchildren and no matter how much you protest about what you think your ‘elite’ friends have done at Whole Foods, Organic Valley, and Stoneyfield Farms…the result will most certainly mean crop contamination, seed degeneration, and the food system as a whole will poison my grandchildren.

    What part of ‘compromise’ do you not understand. You expect that this call to get on the same team and not ruffle the feathers is actually going to stop Monsanto’s assault on the integrity of our food system. Get REAL!

    Perhaps you should look at this blog post from the reputable FDL blog:

    http://my.firedoglake.com/organicconsumers/2011/01/28/the-organic-elite-surrenders-to-monsanto-what-now/

    Your answer to that is???

    As for talking trash…you and your partners actually want to concede and cozy up with the likes of someone like Tom Vilisack …please give it a break!

  4. healthB4wealth Says:

    Thank you for clarifying this Megan. I support OCA and value their updates, but it sounds as though Mr. Cummins criticisms were misdirected. Keep up the good work!

    Best,
    Gabe

  5. JodyRaeMason Says:

    Megan,
    I really appreciate this letter. I was so heartbroken earlier this week, but my resolve to fight for Organic and the future of food is even stronger. I sincerely believe the only way to move Organic forward is to collaborate with all partners in the sector to continue educating consumers, submitting recommendations to the USDA, and exhibiting solidarity on this issue. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and I know the work everyone has done up to this point is not in vain.

  6. Dianne B. Says:

    To EV (#3): Oh my goodness. The FDL post you direct Megan to and then challenge her to respond to? It’s the very post she IS responding to. FDL reprinted Ronnie Cummins’s OCA post. Pay attention here. You are embarrassing yourself.

    I don’t see how Megan could be clearer about how the organic coalition fought and continues to fight in their effort to secure some degree of protections for organic farmers who will have to deal with GMO contamination. I have no idea where you are getting your ideas, EV, about “compromising” and “cozying up to” Monsanto. I’d like to see you support your assertions with excerpts from Megan’s post, because I don’t see it. Look: the USDA had made it clear that they were going to approve GMO alfalfa, period. There was no non-approval option. So, as Megan explains, the organic coalition tried to secure regulation that would give organic farmers some recourse for damages from Monsanto. How is that compromising? Oh, please, just re-read Megan’s third paragraph.

    Megan, thank you for this very clarifying post.

  7. dana Says:

    Megan,
    According to informed sources, the CEOs of WFM and Stonyfield – owned by Groupe Danone, the makers of Danon yogurt and Evian bottled water – are personal friends of former Iowa governor, now USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack, and in fact made financial contributions to Vilsack’s previous electoral campaigns. Vilsack was hailed as “Governor of the Year” in 2001 by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and traveled in a Monsanto corporate jet on the campaign trail. Perhaps even more fundamental to Organic Inc.’s abject surrender is the fact that the organic elite has become more and more isolated from the concerns and passions of organic consumers and locavores. The Organic Inc. CEOs are tired of activist pressure, boycotts, and petitions. Several of them have told me this to my face. They apparently believe that the battle against GMOs has been lost, and that it’s time to reach for the consolation prize. The consolation prize they seek is a so-called “coexistence” between the biotech Behemoth and the organic community that will lull the public to sleep and greenwash the unpleasant fact that Monsanto’s unlabeled and unregulated genetically engineered crops are now spreading their toxic genes on 1/3 of U.S. (and 1/10 of global) crop land.

    We all appreciate what the Non-GMO project does but it’s about time to call a spade a spade.

  8. EV Says:

    To Diane

    Oh my goodness, I am so sorry I ruffled your feathers. How am I embarrassing myself when I purposely pointed out the FDL post that indeed came from Ronnie and that was the point?

    Why don’t YOU pay attention to what is really going on here. Being a cheerleader in response to challenges on a subject that affects all people, their children, and grandchildren’s well being is an affront to those of us who equally have deep concerns about the direction this pact with Monsanto represents.

    Just so you are aware, I am a 65 year old person who has been deeply involved in the Organic movement since the days of Fred Rohe and the original Organic Merchants in California. I have also fought and worked for the same ideals that Megan is so passionate about and respect her committment to make the organic way and the non GMO food future an attainable one…

    …but we are not going to do that by serving ‘incrementalism’ in the form of giving something away every time we come up against the ‘devil company’ Monsanto. That in fact is what is being done here. You actually believe that Monsanto is going to be a cooperative entity in this challenge.

    It is YOU who needs to assert I am wrong in my and many others assertions…I choose not to follow the mantra ‘let’s all be quiet and get along so we don’t make waves’. I read Megan’s entire letter response over and over, trying to glean the grain from the chaff, but I am left still asserting that the protections and ‘pay off’ money to the besieged farmers is NOT the answer.

    By the way I have been a registered member of the Non GMO Group and receive their newsletter and have appreciated their efforts from the start
    until now!

    Certainly hope that is a justified clarification for your character assassination of me!

    Peace!

  9. michaeltbishop Says:

    I was disheartened to hear that alfalfa will be deregulated and truly opposed to the corporations that produce the GMO products such as Monsanto.

    There’s an ongoing fight to stop GMO but it appears to me that all the resources and energy focused on stopping the GMO industry is being misdirected. I compare it to the old story of the people that try to hold the gun manufacturers responsible for the death and injures caused by a gun in the process of a crime instead of the criminal that pulled the trigger. Monsanto and the other corporations may be manufacturing the seeds but they are not the ones that are actually planting them and directly contributing to the cross contamination.

    Everyone’s fighting Monsanto instead of the farmer next door.

    I feel that we will have greater success with reducing or eliminating the planting/production of GMOs if we begin to hold the farmers accountable for the cross contamination that occurs as well as any environmental/health effects.

    The first step is to begin talking with farmers that are inclined to use GMO and work with them to discontinue the practice. Then the next step is to identify existing laws that will allow us to hold them accountable for the economic damages created due to cross contamination or the ill effects on the environment and our health.

    It will be easier to dismantle the GMO industry one farmer at a time than with a direct hit against the corporations that have a large arsenal of money and investors.

    Let’s begin to refocus our energy today!

  10. reality Says:

    When you work with the system, it is all about compromise. How much power do we have? I think very little at this point. I just viewed a film entitled ‘Don’t talk about the weather’-available at http://www.peaceproject.com -it alludes to the aluminum that is being dumped into the atmosphere- The gmo film, Food Inc., describes how monsanto developed a patent on aluminum tolerant seeds. I became very suspicious about why they would do this- how weird!- ‘Don’t talk about the weather’ gave me the answers. Even though it looks like an impossible fight, I will never give up. We have just started a gmo-free marin film series – we show a film once a month at the fairfax library and show films on our local channel 26.
    There’s lots of work to do! Let’s not fight amongst ourselves- there is so much work to do- just pick something, work on it, wake people up- any way you can!

  11. Dianne B. Says:

    EV:

    Let’s call a truce, because this kind of infighting is exactly what tears us all apart. I apoligize for starting it, because the tone of my response to you was unnecessarily harsh. Please forgive me.

    Let me try again.

    Believe me, I don’t give Monsanto any credit for ever being “a cooperative entity” now or in the foreseeable future. There is nothing good about how Monsanto operates in this. They are truly the enemy in this and so many matters. Agreed.

    What brought me into this discussion was concern specifically with the accusation against Organic Valley. I had so recently been aware of OV’s work in opposition to the alfalfa approval, and Cummins’s accusation of them doing an apparent about-face along with WF and Stonyfield confused me. (I wasn’t aware of details about WF and Stonyfield’s recent actions on this, but I admit I would have been less surprised if they’d caved. I don’t have automatic reverence for Big Organic; they’re plenty fallible. But neither do I condemn them en masse.)

    Eventually, I was directed to Megan’s post. I find her argument convincing in this way: Monsanto can be trusted to continue to act in the pernicious way they’ve always acted. I don’t see any way to negotiate with them. It appears to me that the USDA was the only entity through which we could get anything at all favorable for farmers out of this mess. Megan reports on how the organic actors who worked on it did what they could to try to get something in the way of regulatory restrictions from the USDA.

    My question is, what is it that they could do differently when up against the USDA and the USDA isn’t going to give them the time of day? These companies can keep banging their heads on the walls of the USDA, but the USDA won’t do what we want.

    There’s all this anger at the companies, but what do you actually, practically do? If you boycott, what will that force WF, OV, and Stonyfield to do? Will a boycott that punishes the farmers that supply them help?

    Let’s say that WF, OV, and S-field were headed by people who had no suspiciously friendly ties to Vilsack (and I agree, that would be nice). What would organic company CEOs who are sufficiently loyal to the cause by your standards do when the USDA is determined to approve Monsanto’s alfalfa?

    How do all the small, organic farmers across the country take action? They don’t have the resources to fight Monsanto, as Monsanto keeps grievously demonstrating. As Megan points out, what legal resources and money there are to be put into this fight are being put there by “Big Organic.”

    So I’m still wondering how excoriating the groups that have the resources and have tried will get us where we want to be.

    I really want to know, because if it’s a good plan, I’d like to support it. But, again, how will boycotts and internecine feuds do the job?

    It seems that there’s a great deal of work to keep doing on multiple fronts, not only through Big Organic corporations, to educate people so more and more of them will reject the Monsanto way of doing agriculture and demand better ag policy from their government.

  12. cellhead Says:

    You don’t win a battle by making a deal with the DEVIL, has never worked and never will! A prominent example of this was the appeasement policy for dealing with Hitler, remember what that got us? And give me a break, far from abandoning organic farmers, there are plenty of other places to buy organic and natural groceries besides Whole Foods. From now on I will do all my grocery shopping at local coops, which always have been more committed to stocking organic choices of items than Whole Foods anyway. And tell me, why is it the USDA announcement of approving GMO alfalfa came out the day after we learned of Whole Food

  13. cellhead Says:

    …Whole Foods,Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farms’ epic betrayal of all of us? Don’t think we are so naive and as to not see the obvious connection!

  14. JasonMChicago Says:

    I always appreciate what the NonGMOProject does and have donated money to the efforts many times. I am disheartened by Whole Foods Market. They could have sent SHOCKWAVES through the organic and natural foods industry by starting to mandate that all products sold in their stores be nongmoproject verified. Yes a big, big step but something that would make sense. WF has done a great job with their unacceptable ingredients list and putting GMOs on it would just send the strongest and most vocal message to “biotech” and the food industry in general. Whole Foods is big, they have influence and could have made a major statement by doing a nonGMO mandate for their stores. This would have swung the pendulum once and for all.

    (NonGMOProject please post this comment and don’t delete it. Thank you.)

  15. calebsnuffles Says:

    Whew! I’m so glad that Organic Valley farmers will get a paycheck when Monsanto contaminates our world’s gene-pool! Fro a second there I’d thought we’d lost something. My goats will feel better about that.

    The organic elite and the non GMO project stood as the last road bump to deregulation. It may have been inevitable, but you all just caved in. Perhaps Cummins didn’t recall your organization because you weren’t doing your job.

    It’s kind of funny that you brought up your activist training at the begging, Megan. Did they train you WHEN to chain yourself to an axle or just how? Cause, from what I’m seeing this would be the time. The axle on Mackey’s BBQ cart at the next WFM pool party doesn’t count either. A steady paycheck turns an activist into a corporate spokes-defender.

  16. Francesca Says:

    1) “Damages” will be meaningless and not enforced when genetically modified crops predominate across America (and the world).

    2) We should educate the non-organic farmers NOW, to resist Monsanto … and make sure they continue to have that option even.

    3) We should lobby Oprah (seriously) to get involved.

    4) We should lobby Obama to ban GE alfalfa.

    5) Boycotting Whole Foods would not be such a bad idea. There are plenty of other ways to get organic food (at least for now …) and nifty gourmet items!!

  17. Realitybites Says:

    “Informed sources” eh?

    Reality check. Anyone can say anything they want to, but citing “informed sources” as the source does nothing.

    Informed sources claim that WFM is run by an invading extra-terrestrial army, bent on world domination, and that the Organic movement as a whole is a front for their mad mind-control experiments.

    Informed sources told me so.

  18. daiaravi Says:

    With all due respect, Megan, yer gonna have to change the name of your organization to “Mostly-Kinda-non-GMO’s as your stand is reminiscent of the oh-so-brave Momamar Kadafi’s (multiple) “lines drawn in the sand” every time he stepped back in the face of Amerika’s aggressive, overwhelming military threats.

    This is not about a compromise, this is not about “taking it out on 1200 farmers families” – this reaction is about our coming to terms with the fact that the largest, most powerful of the organic forces we have are willing to accept the creeping (actually racing) infringement of GMO’s in our food chain. Or then again, maybe this was just a wink-wink, say-no-more between ol’ friends? Just politics as usual i guess – the old boys network jus’ working it’s profit magic.

    Muster up your “radical activism” that you are supposedly not a stranger to – and snap up your thinking cap (something’s leaking) and see that this is an issue a for or against issue – there are no complications, no middle-of-the-road, only (as already noted above) deals with the devel-

    GMO’S ARE DISASTROUS TO THE ENVIRONMENT AND TO THE HEALTH OF THE PEOPLE AND ANIMALS THAT CONSUME THEM. THERE IS NO MORE ROOM FOR COMPROMISE ON THIS FACT THAN THERE IS ROOM FOR COMPROMISE ON GENOCIDE, MASS-RAPE OR MURDER – BECAUSE IN ESSENCE – THAT IS WHAT IS BEING PERPATRATED ON THE FARMERS AND CONSUMERS OF AMERICA BY MONSANTO AND ITS ALLIES. IF EUROPE CAN EFFECTIVELY BAN GMO’S, WHY DO YOU LOSE RESOLVE IN THE FACE OF MONSANTO – PERHAPS BECAUSE IT IS THE FACE OF DEATH?

    I want my 3 year old daughter to be able to FIND a non-gmo food when she has grown up – provided she can grow up at all in the face of all the poison and monstrous threats to our and her good health and well being.

    Open up your d*mn eyes and see that the USDA is in the pocket of Monsanto and you and the other named – the (former) front line of defense against these atrocities, are stepping back and back drawing your meaningless lines in the sand and to no avail whatsoever. GMO alfalfa is gonna be planted and if you think that a regulatory co-existence is possible – then read a history book – the previous commenters reference about Hitler’s tactics is a good place to start.

    and maybe you remember your name, finally
    NON-GMO PROJECT.

    Ravi Wells
    DaiaSolGaia
    Discoveries for a Full Life

  19. admin Says:

    Just want to remind everyone that (unfortunately for all of us) we are not in charge of the USDA. We are simply doing our best to make a bad situation better. If you have a better idea, let’s hear it!

  20. Naturally Says:

    Is Non-GMO Project a greenwashing effort, as Organic Consumer Association alleges? Unfortunately, some troubling facts point in that direction.

    According to OCA, Whole Foods Market [a founding member and principal funder of Non-GMO Project] derives two-thirds of it’s $9 billion annual sales “from so-called ‘natural’ processed foods and animal products that are contaminated with GMOs.” OCA claims, “We and our allies have tested their so-called ‘natural’ products containing non-organic corn and soy, and guess what: they’re all contaminated with GMOs.”

    In her response, Non-GMO Project’s Megan Westgate provides no direct answer to this allegation. Instead, she only says that all Whole Food’s “natural” house-brand products (“365 Everyday Value”) are “enrolled in the Non-GMO Project.” There is no mention of the hundreds of other “natural” brands that Whole Foods carries. Despite this glaring gap, Westgate says Whole Foods Markets’ “commitment is exemplary.”

    Furthermore, it turns out that “enrolled in the Non-GMO Project” does not mean “Non-GMO Project Verified.” Only 23 out of the hundreds of Whole Foods’ non-organic “365 Everyday Value” products are “Non-GMO Project Verified.” All the rest are “in the process of becoming verified.”

    http://www.nongmoproject.org/consumers/search-participating-products/search/?brandId=240

    Knowing that fact, Westgate’s assurance to consumers that “This commitment means that they are requiring testing of every single GMO risk ingredient used in every single one of their house brand products” certainly rings false.

    We can assume that when Non-GMO Project testing of Whole Foods’ “365 Everyday Value” natural products is completed, it will be “discovered” that all those containing non-organic corn and soy are contaminated with GMOs, just as OCA’s independent tests have already revealed.

    But, there’s more. When Westgate claims to be “really confused” about OCA’s Truth-in-Labeling campaign, she’s being deliberately obtuse. Isn’t that what Non-GMO Project is already doing, she wonders. Well, no, it’s not.

    In the OCA article, “The Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto: What Now?” the words “so-called Non-GMO Project” are hyperlinked to a Canadian document that provides a detailed, critical analysis of Non-GMO Project. It reveals that:

    (1) The “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal does not mean no GMOs. Foods that display the seal are allowed to contain GMOs, up to a certain threshold.

    (2) Foods that display the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal are allowed to be produced with chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.

    (3) Due to confidentiality agreements between Non-GMO Project and it’s clients (like Whole Foods Markets), test results can not be revealed to the public.

    (4) Non-GMO Project undercuts consumer confidence in the “USDA Organic” seal by claiming that “organic certification is not adequate,” and that the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal is superior.

    (5) The “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal does a poor job of allowing consumers to make informed choices about GMO foods, and even confuses the issue by applying seals to foods that have no GMO counterparts — like cranberries and green beans.

    http://www.organicconsumers.org/nongmoprojectdiscussionpaperOAPF-1.pdf

    Join OCA’s Truth-in-Labeling campaign here:

    http://www.organicconsumers.org/monsanto/

  21. Megan Westgate Says:

    Almost every single point in the above comment contains inaccuracy and confusion that would easily be alleviated by reading a few of the many informative pages of our website. In particular, I would direct your attention to http://www.nongmoproject.org/2011/01/28/the-non-gmo-project-empowering-consumers-protecting-a-non-gmo-future/ and to http://www.nongmoproject.org/consumers/understanding-our-seal/ After reading those, you will understand how and why we do what we do, and will be better able to create constructive, meaningful comments, which we always appreciate.

    There is obviously so much anger behind this comment, but I’m afraid that it is totally misdirected. The GMO situation is truly horrific, and there are no easy answers. If the point you are trying to make is that the Non-GMO Project is not perfect, then I ask you: what is your better idea for winning the GMO battle against all odds? I say with complete honesty and an open heart that if you have a better idea, wonderful! We should add it to the collective strategy. Beating GMOs will take all of the brains, creativity, and collaborative spirit we can muster.

    The strategy we offer is a market-based one for achieving a non-GMO tipping point: Because of the Non-GMO Project, hundreds of farmers, processors and manufacturers across North America are now testing for GMOs FOR THE FIRST TIME (again, this includes our organic participants, who are NOT required to test under the NOP), and millions of consumers are learning what GMOs are and why to avoid them. It’s relatively easy to destroy and criticize something, but creation takes skill and hard work. Let’s work on building a safe future of food TOGETHER.

    There’s no way to lose this struggle faster than to drown ourselves with infighting. I have no intention of giving Monsanto the pleasure of watching us destroy our own movement. Let’s keep ourselves informed, constructive, and collaborative.

  22. Naturally Says:

    This is what journalists call a “non-denial denial.” You don’t deny the central allegations that:

    (1) Your client and principal funder, Whole Foods Market, is selling $6 billion/year in foods labeled “natural” which are contaminated with GMOs.

    (2) Organic Consumers Association has conducted independent testing of WFM’s so-called “natural” products containing non-organic corn and soy, and found “they’re all contaminated with GMOs.”

    (3) Only a tiny fraction of WFM’s “natural” food products have been subjected to Non-GMO Project testing (as information on your own website indicates).

    (4) Non-GMO Project continues to falsely assure the public that Whole Foods Market’s “commitment is exemplary,” and their so-called “natural” food products are safe to eat.

    Further, your responses to the allegations in the Canadian document I linked to are less than satisfactory. (And I’m being kind in that assessment.)

    It’s clear that Non-GMO Project’s testing and assurances can not be trusted.

    You ask “what is your better idea for winning the GMO battle?” It’s Organic Consumer Association’s Truth-in-Labeling campaign for GMO-food labeling. Polls show 85% to 95% of American consumers want GMO-food labels. With GMO-food labels, informed consumers will avoid GMO foods, thus destroying the market for GMO crops and removing the financial incentive for farmers to plant GMO crops.

    Unlike the Non-GMO Project model, Truth-in-Labeling does not rely on funding from, or confidentiality agreements with, the purveyors of GMO food.

    If Non-GMO Project was genuinely concerned with public health and environmental protection you would be enthusiastically supporting Truth-in-Labeling, rather than engaging in obfuscation and kill-the-messenger tactics to try to undercut it.

  23. Megan Westgate Says:

    At the end of another 14-hour work day of pouring everything I’ve got into protecting our planet and future generations from GMOs, I will take the time to respond, but let me just say how discouraged I feel by your tone and attitude. As the director of a small non-proft in this David vs. Goliath battle, I take on the work of several people every day. I care about providing every member of the public with the information they need, but I am afraid you are looking for a fight more than you are looking for the truth. I am not going to fight with you. To me HOW we do what we do is as important as WHAT we do, and I am committed to doing my work with integrity and a peaceful heart. I will give you the truth on the points above. After this, you can keep poking if you must, but I will not find it constructive to engage further.

    1) Whole Foods Market is NOT our “principle funder.” Co-ops and independent retailers have provided more donation dollars to the Non-GMO Project than Whole Foods. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit we are also funded by grants, program revenue, and public donations.

    2) In this country at this time in our history, the sad truth is that the majority of food sold by ALL retailers is at risk for GMO contamination. The Non-GMO Project is trying very hard to change that, and our 800+ Retailer Endorsers, including Whole Foods, are a great help in that effort. They are all asking natural and organic brands to enroll in the Project and test for GMOs so that the problem can be contained.

    3) It is true that only a fraction of Whole Foods private label products have completed the verification process so far, but you are still misinformed about what “enrollment” means, and are confusing simple, singular testing with Non-GMO Project Verification (which is a much more complex achievement entailing requirements for traceability, segregation and ongoing testing of each batch of risk ingredients). The link I shared already on “Understand our Seal” may be useful, and if you are really interested in understanding the nuances of the program (which would be a good idea if you want to comment on it), you should check out the Industry portion of our website where you can download our 36 page standard. Due to its rigor, the verification process generally takes months to complete–it’s not just “Non-GMO Project testing.”

    4) Yes, we maintain that Whole Foods’ commitment is exemplary. They are the only retailer in the country with all of their private label products enrolled in the Non-GMO Project, and they are leaders in calling on all members of the industry to do the same.

    I am not at all opposed to efforts to mandate labeling of all GMO foods, but I am a pragmatic person. After 10 years of the USDA ignoring our pleas, many of us who are committed to the non-GMO future of food chose to take matters into our own hands by creating the Non-GMO Project. It is a proactive alternative, and it by no means precludes the mandated labeling option.

    If you have specific suggestions for how you would like to see us support the Truth in Labeling campaign, we are most certainly open to hearing them.

    There are some comments above that I am not responding to. This is simply because they are so baseless and inflammatory that there is no way to respond without reciprocating the argumentative tone, which I am not willing to do.

    I wish you all the best and sincerely hope that you can find a way to move forward with positivity. We will all accomplish more that way.

  24. Naturally Says:

    (1) The purveyors of GMO food (mislabeled “natural”) include Whole Foods Market and other retailers that buy from United Natural Foods (UNFI). Those are your principal funders. WFM alone sells $6 billion/year in GMO food falsely labeled as “natural” — a fact you repeatedly fail to acknowledge.

    (2) So-called “natural” foods sold by WFM and other UNFI retailers are not “at risk for GMO contamination.” If they contain non-organic soy or corn they are IN FACT contaminated with GMOs, and you know it. Your statement that WFM is “a great help” in the effort to keep GMO foods off the market is dishonest, since you know they CHOOSE to sell GMO foods and to deceive their customers by falsely labeling those GMO foods as “natural.” If WFM truly wanted to help keep GMO foods off the market, they could simply STOP SELLING them.

    As to your comment about “ALL retailers,” all retailers (e.g. major supermarket chains selling conventional food) don’t deceive their customers by labeling GMO foods as “natural.”

    (3) I DO know what “enrollment” means. It means that foods sold by “enrolled” companies are NOT free of GMOs. It means that retailers like WFM can continue brazenly selling GMO foods, deceiving their customers, charging premium prices, harming public health and providing financial incentives for farmers to plant GMO crops — and they can do so indefinitely and with alacrity, while hiding behind your veil of “enrollment” and confidentiality agreements.

    (4) Whole Foods Market is despicable, not “exemplary.” It should stop deceiving people by selling GMO food labeled “natural.”

    If Non-GMO Project is “not at all opposed” to Organic Consumer Association’s Truth-in-Labeling, then please don’t misrepresent it by implying it is somehow dependent upon USDA.

    My “specific” suggestions? I specifically suggest you click on this link

    http://www.organicconsumers.org/monsanto/

    and learn what Truth-in-Labeling actually is.

    Read the petition to “Large Grocery Store Chains,” sign it, and send copies to each of your clients. Include a personal note encouraging them to post the “May Contain GMOs” and “CAFO” labels in their stores.

    Then read the petition to State Legislators and sign it. Then sign up to organize a Truth-in-Labeling chapter in your area. Make a significant donation. You can call OCA and ask them for additional suggestions.

  25. daiaravi Says:

    THIS NEWS IS JUST BREAKING – an open letter to the USDA has been just made public by COL (Ret.) Don M. Huber, Emeritus Professor, Purdue University title: Glyphosate Roundup or Round Up Ready Crops May Cause Animal Miscarriages – and the revelation is shocking .THIS IS WHY RONNIE CUMMINS of the ORGANIC CONSUMERS ASSOCIATION IS 100% CORRECT IN HIS ABSOLUTIST STAND – Read the letter here: http://daiasolgaia.com/?p=2736

  26. JasonMChicago Says:

    I do criticize WFM and the NonGMOProject for capitulating when their efforts were needed most… however I also applaud them on their efforts to create the NonGMOProject in the first place. WFM should be given some credit for enrolling ALL their private label products. That’s a big deal. Many “organic” brands haven’t even enrolled. Where is Trader Joe’s? How come they haven’t enrolled!

  27. CARLOS Says:

    I know I am late to the game but I was just asked to read your response to the OCA article. I have been to your site before in the past and have looked at your list of products under review and they have been under review for a very long time. If they have not passed the test they should not be listed. It is a simple test. Ask John Fagen from Global ID Group, he’s on your board. This is miss leading to post products that are under review on your site. You look at the list of big organic agriculture companies that are you contributors and on your board. I know it is very hard to call them out. These are the very companies that are constantly lobbying to lower the standards of the NOP regulations. This is why Certified Organic has gotten a bad reputation. BIG AG! I am sure that when you started off on this endeavor the Non GMO Project your heart was in the right place and I a sure that probably it still is but money changes every thing. I am sure your life is different now than when you were in Tuson and the same could be said about George Siemon the CEO of Organic Valley. You learn to compromise your beliefs in order to not loose your position. If I am going to grow I need to learn to compromise. I am a small business owner that depends on Organic Alfalfa. I will not receive compensation for my losses. So you can defend your Non Profits stance of posting products that do not pass Non GMO Certification and never will and defend your Board members stance on compromise. Big Organic Agriculture does not speak for me and never will. I will not stop the fight against companies like Monsanto in order to insure my place in life.

  28. itsonlyausername Says:

    I find it very disingenous for any organisation to hide the evidence of what a company is allowed to get away with with regards GMO contamination. As far as I am concerned the organisation that you profess to be is little more than a greenwashing front for the likes of Monsanto and always will be by virtue of your confidentiality clause. If they have nothing to hide why hide it? Because they do have something to hide and I bet if we follow the money it would lead us to a place that non of us wishes to go.
    I really feel sorry for all those people who have supported your advertised intentions only for the hidden agenda to become known when it is all but too late to do anything about it.

  29. admin Says:

    Forgive us for being genuinely confused, but we are. We certainly don’t hide evidence, and we’re not sure what you mean by “confidentiality clause.” Through our efforts, more non-GMO cropland is being planted, more ingredients are being tested and more consumers are being educated. All of this serves our non-profit mission of protecting a non-GMO food supply and giving consumers an informed choice, which we feel pretty darn good about!

  30. jockdoubleday Says:

    An inspirational article at a time when the world needs inspiration.

  31. asciiman Says:

    Just want to say how grateful I am of your organization and how much efforts you put into to reducing the use of GMO ingredients in our food. Your work has certainly made a difference to me. Please keep the hope up and know that what you’re doing is rare and good. You’re making a difference.

    Folks are going to respond in a variety of manners, and this is usually dictated by their world-view. There’s nothing right or wrong about holding a particular world-view. Folks adopt a world-view based on conditions in their life. Unfortunately, there are lots of conditions existing in the world right now that lead to worldviews that are driven by anger. It’s through constructive efforts like yours and millions of other people around the planet that are creatively shifting the way we’re operating that this will change and allow more people to be empowered and let go of the angry energy they hold. Continue to trust that you are doing the right thing.

    Stephen