There's a lot going on.
In case you missed it, there have been several news stories lately regarding the food system — including some that impact your right to choose whether or not to consume GMOs. As always, the Non-GMO Project continues to advocate for natural, resilient and sustainable food supply, to build and protect our genetic inheritance, and to offer Verified options.
Now, the news roundup.
White House promotes biotechnology… again
President Biden recently issued an executive order to advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing across government agencies and industries — including agriculture. This order blindly promotes biotechnology in the food sector — a misguided and expensive move. It takes the food system in the wrong direction to meet its stated goals of food security and climate adaptation.
We believe that agriculture should work with nature rather than against it. We support expanding holistic, resilient and equitable solutions in the food system. We are deeply concerned about the ongoing privatization of the food supply, which places ever more of our essential resources into the hands of a few multinational corporations.
You can read our statement in response to the executive order here.
Big investment in "Climate-Smart Commodities"
The U.S. government selected the first round of grant recipients under the "Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities." The program earmarked $3 billion of the federal budget to reduce GHG emissions and increase carbon sequestration in major food crops and commodity production.
While this is an important first step, it doesn't go far enough.
The food system desperately needs a bold transition to fully regenerative production. In its current form, the grant program could further subsidize GMO production systems for crops such as soy, corn, cotton and alfalfa. These GMOs are grown using fundamentally harmful methods — vast areas of monocropping with liberal pesticide applications, leading to "superweeds" and "superbugs." Reducing GHG emissions without addressing the production model's other major issues is only a partial solution.
We welcome equally ambitious investment in an aggressive transition to diverse, non-GMO agriculture.
USDA packs Standards Board with government employees
The USDA is taking four seats on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) away from dedicated public volunteers and re-designating them to be filled by “Special Government Employees” (SGEs). The NOSB is a 15-member federal advisory board that makes recommendations on National Organic Program regulations, including which substances or practices to allow or prohibit in organic production.
With the Presidential Executive Order on biotechnology already telegraphing the federal government's support for GMOs, replacing public representatives with government employees is cause for deep concern. Organic supporters — including the Non-GMO Project — are left wondering if the appointment of government employees is part of a larger movement to include GMOs in organic production.
GMO labeling win — QR codes are unlawful
The Center for Food Safety had a critical victory in their latest suit to address shortcomings in the federal Bioengineered (BE) Food labeling law. A U.S. district court found using QR codes alone for BE disclosures unlawful and discriminatory. QR codes are inaccessible to Americans who don't use smartphones or live in rural areas with unreliable internet.
The finding is a big win for everyone who supports clear, meaningful GMO labeling. It eliminates the most egregious and discriminatory form of disclosure, forcing the USDA to revise the portions of the labeling law to remove the option alone on product packaging.
However, there are still issues with the Bioengineered Food labeling law — find out more here.
While we've ended on a positive note for GMO labeling, there are causes for concern in organics and agricultural biotechnology. Biotechnology in the food space continues to overpromise and underdeliver, increasing the need for costly and destructive inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers while failing to address hunger in the most vulnerable populations.
The Non-GMO Project continues to work towards a natural, regenerative and equitable food system that honors traditional and Indigenous knowledge and empowers all people to care for themselves, the planet, and future generations.
The Non-GMO Project is proud to be a part of the Regenerate America campaign, working with Kiss the Ground and a diverse coalition of farmers, businesses, nonprofits and concerned citizens working to make regenerative agriculture the cornerstone of the 2023 Farm Bill. Together, we can lay the foundations of a healthy and sustainable food system for future generations.
Currently, America's agriculture system relies on industrial-style production that prioritizes efficiency at the expense of healthy and resilient landscapes. Racialized and minority communities have borne disproportionate burdens caused by our dysfunctional food system. Supporting equitable access to the resources young and underserved farmers need to get a foothold is not only a boon to the agricultural landscape. It is also an opportunity to begin the hard work of healing injustice, violence and racism.
Squeezing more commodities from each acre is an old way of thinking. The inescapable truth is that farmers grow much more than this crop or that crop. Farmland, ranchland, silvopasture and agroforestry acreage can support a diverse cast of wildlife, insect life and microorganisms that operate in symbiosis to recycle nutrients, keep pests under control and ultimately help to grow next year's bounty. A system that starves all those other creatures will eventually fail to produce for us.
Under non-regenerative practices, our topsoil — the nutrient-dense uppermost layer of soil — is being depleted 10 times faster than it can be replenished. World Food Prize Laureate Rattan Lal likens soil to a bank account — you cannot withdraw more than you put in. "Anything that we take out of the soil, we must replace. If [we] do not replace it, soil will not produce." If we continue to degrade our soils without regeneration, we usher in a future of food insecurity and economic uncertainty.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What does a regenerative future look like?
By changing how we grow our food, agriculture can become a crucial driver for social justice, income equality, environmental restoration, and resilience. Committing ourselves to rebuilding healthy soils doesn't just fill up our metaphorical bank account — it also benefits actual bank accounts.
The Farm Bill is one of the most potent tools shaping American agriculture. It touches every single American by determining what crops are grown and how. Provisions for conservation, insurance and rural investment have far-reaching economic and environmental consequences. A new Farm Bill is passed every 5-7 years — meaning this could be the last iteration this decade. These years mark our final chance to reshape the food system before a critical window to act on climate change closes. The path we choose now could very well determine the health and happiness of future generations.
Our regenerative future is bright, with cascading benefits across communities:
- Regenerated soils An estimated 95% of our food comes from soil. Rich soil teeming with nutrients, minerals and microorganisms can grow healthier and hardier crops while protecting against climate extremes such as drought and heat.
- Regenerated economics Investing in rural livelihoods, supporting equitable access to the resources young and underserved farmers need, and ensuring that food insecure families have enough to eat creates a ripple of positive economic impacts.
- Regenerated communities As rural communities across America struggle to survive, residents move to urban centers for opportunities. Family-owned farmland is sold to conglomerates and corporations that move even further from regenerative ideals. Many marginalized and disenfranchised communities hold knowledge that is essential to sustainable stewardship of dynamic food systems.
- Regenerated health A regenerative food system goes far beyond a handful of commodity crops, let alone genetically modified versions of those crops! A regenerative system celebrates the diversity of our genetic inheritance, integrating a variety of crops and livestock into resilient farming systems while nourishing Americans.
If we act with urgency and boldness, we can change the lives of millions of Americans while building the framework for a healthier, more equitable world. Regenerating our soil means rebuilding a future for ourselves, our children, and countless other plants, animals and other life forms.
We stand at the crossroads. We can choose to build resilience through regenerative practices — but only if we act together!
Learn more about the Regenerate America campaign at RegenerateAmerica.com.
February is Black History Month, and this year's celebration focuses on Black Health & Wellness. This theme goes beyond physical well-being, encompassing mental and spiritual health while honoring the practitioners and scholars who have worked in Black communities.
Food is, of course, part of every community's health and wellness, and it's a key component of holistic health. Food is an essential part of cultural identity and belonging, and it underscores relationships to the land and to each other.
To celebrate Black History Month, we're highlighting a few of the amazing nonprofit organizations across the United States whose work in food and agriculture promotes the well-being of Black Americans.
This selection is by no means exhaustive! It represents a fraction of the many BIPOC-led nonprofits working toward a just and equitable food system for all.
Urban Growers Collective
"Urban Growers Collective’s work aims to address the inequities and structural racism that exist in the food system and in communities of color."
Chicago-based Urban Growers Collective (UGC) focuses on urban agriculture as a tool for economic revitalization, food security and overall community health. The Black- and women-led nonprofit operates eight urban farms across 11 acres, predominantly on Chicago's South Side. In 2021, Time Out featured UGC in their segment on "10 Black-owned businesses that are shaping Chicago right now."
If you are in the Chicago area, you can support Urban Growers Collective by buying their products. Their latest events, job training and employment opportunities can be found on the UGC Facebook page — visit often for fresh listings.
Soul Fire Farm
"Soul Fire Farm is an Afro-Indigenous centered community farm committed to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system."
Soul Fire Farm is an 80-acre regenerative farm and education center located on Mohican land in New York State. The team grows food, soil and activism — and they do it all while investing in the next generation of skilled Black and Brown growers.
Soul Fire Farm's impacts include a community-supported agriculture program to address food apartheid and on-farm immersion programs for growers of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx heritage to participate in a culturally-relevant food system. Nationally, team members contribute their powerful voices to antiracist and food sovereignty work (should you ever have the opportunity to enjoy Leah Penniman's powerful keynotes or Naima Penniman's inspiring poetry, do not pass it up!). The workshop Uprooting Racism in the Food System is an essential resource for nonprofits and food sector organizations.
"Our mission is to heal and transform the wounds suffered by the people and the land through reparative genealogy and regenerative agriculture."
Jubilee Justice addresses antiracism in focused initiatives and at scale. They pursue reconciliation with small groups while organizing larger initiatives that help Black farmers achieve economic stability through sustainable agriculture.
The Jubilee Justice Journeys Program facilitates difficult conversations between individuals across race and class, creating "conditions for people to self-reflect and take a deep dive into how the issues surrounding Land, Race, Money & Spirit have defined America’s past and reimage and actively lean into a new future."
The Black Farmers Program supports sustainable, regenerative practices that build economic stability and soil health for the Black-owned farms that adopt them. One Jubilee Justice project — systems of rice intensification (SRI) — helps farmers transition parts of their land to organic rice farming using holistic methods to increase yields and decrease costs.
With an unflinching gaze at American history and how it has led us to the present day, Jubilee Justice works toward a better, healthier and more just future.
National Black Food & Justice Alliance
"The National Black Food and Justice Alliance (NBFJA) is a coalition of Black-led organizations aimed at developing Black leadership, supporting Black communities, organizing for Black self-determination, and building institutions for Black food sovereignty & liberation."
The National Black Food and Justice Alliance brings together dozens of member organizations to address regional and national initiatives to elevate Black food sovereignty and land ownership.
For example, NBFJA is working to preserve Black farmland in Pembroke Township, IL in the path of a proposed pipeline. The Black Land and Power coalition acts strategically to address the massive land loss inflicted on Black Farmers during the last century.
NBFJA's membership includes some familiar names, such as Soul Fire Farm and Jubilee Justice, as well as many organizations worth learning more about.
The impacts of an unjust food system run deeply through nearly all aspects of life, braided into well-being, autonomy and sovereignty. Change in any of these areas inevitably impacts the others — and food system reform can transform the communities where it grows.
There is no shortage of nonprofits, activists and farmers who move the work of food justice forward, and we've named only a few of them here. You can learn more through the links shared here, or, to offer direct support to organizations in your region or across the country, visit Reparations & Rematriation for Black-Indigenous Farmers, an interactive resource hosted by Soul Fire Farm.
Agriculture does a lot for us. It produces food, fiber and fuel. In many places, it's critical to social bonds and community. Plus, the land itself provides valuable ecosystem services, protecting the environment we need to thrive.
That's why it's vital that our food systems are healthy, because a healthy food system sows the seeds for true health — for people and the planet. Production that's poorly designed, that produces nutrient-poor food or pollutes the environment causes serious problems down the road.
Food that's better for you starts with food that's better for the planet.
A non-GMO food system that preserves and builds our genetic inheritance is essential to ecological harmony, abundant biodiversity and environmental wellbeing. Here are six compelling ways non-GMO supports a healthier planet — and a healthier you!
- Healthy soil = healthy people — GMO-based agriculture is associated with destructive practices such as increased pesticide use and suppressed crop diversity. When the range of crops and organisms is reduced, we lose the resources and resilience biodiversity provides. A prime example is right in the soil: Did you know soil organisms also produce valuable medicines? It's true! The more microorganisms, and the more different types of microorganisms, the better. Without plentiful and diverse soil life, we lose out on compounds we use to make lifesaving medicines.
- Disrupt the monopoly — GMOs and other patented crops place a huge amount of power in the hands of corporations, creating monopolies that stifle innovation. Corporations use natural resources to do what corporations do best: make money. Meanwhile, private ownership of the food supply doesn't actually feed the world — small farmers do that! And they do it while protecting millions of plant species. Growing a vibrant, adaptive and healthy food system means saying no to GMOs — and the corporate power that produces them.
- Look locally — Community Sustainable Agriculture programs, or CSAs, are a great way to support your local farmers while enjoying some of the freshest and bestest produce around. CSAs help you participate in a regional food system and invest in the local economy. Farmers who grow non-GMO are able to save seeds, producing varieties that are well-adapted to the local climate. In the end, non-GMO and locally adapted seeds leave a legacy of resilient crops for future generations.
- The diverse diet — For decades, nutritionists have recommended a diverse diet, low in processed foods. We agree, and would add that most processed foods are made with GMOs (another reason to look for the Butterfly). GMO-derived ingredients come from a shallow pool of dietary options, and staple crops like corn and soy are overrepresented on ingredient panels (more than 90% of the corn and soy grown in the U.S. is GMO). People need a much wider range of food sources than GMOs can deliver. Choose whole, seasonal foods as much as possible, and make a habit of trying something new in the produce aisle.
- Non-GMO protects Organic — Transitioning to organic farming is a big commitment. It takes three years for most farmland and during that time, non-GMO crops can help support farmers by supplying a market for their crops. Non-GMO acreage and supply chains also protect organic farms and processing facilities by reducing the risk of contamination. After all, one of the reasons the Non-GMO Project was founded was to support USDA Organic Certification with a tested and traced non-GMO supply chain.
- The gold standard: Organic + Non-GMO Project Verified — A recent study from France found that most people have been exposed to the weedkiller glyphosate. Since "Roundup Ready" GMOs (engineered to withstand glyphosate) were introduced in 1996, use of the controversial weedkiller has increased 15 fold, with negative impacts on species biodiversity. How do we cut back on chemical inputs in agriculture? To reduce glyphosate on the landscape, grow non-GMO; to dodge glyphosate on your plate, look for organic!
There's an essential reciprocity at work in our dealings with the earth: Take care of your home and it will take care of you. Or, to put it another way, whether it is better to give or receive is of less consequence than the fact we are rarely confined to one or the other. Certainly in our food system, the "give" and the "take" are forever intermingled. The best outcomes come from embracing this dynamic, and leveling up.