The Earth is on Fire, Literally

Every day we face a new threat. The Amazon Forest has been set on fire.  A hurricane on the east coast, a wildfire in the west. Floods and droughts litter the land in-between.  Glyphosate lawsuits are filed and fought on behalf of those who suffer the ill effects of this pesticide, while the government continues to promote the use of new, improved and more effective pesticides.  Regardless of where you live or your politics, if you are committed to the world’s organic and natural properties, it’s virtually impossible to not be impacted. It would be foolish to believe the dietary supplements and foods we value are safe from these forces. It would be equally foolish to believe our values are protected.

All is not lost, however! We could become complacent, but the natural and organic health community is rarely caught sitting still. In fact, the strongest message we send is relayed by the goods bought and sold off the shelves. Consumer demand for effective products that improve their health status, containing ingredients that are sustainably sourced source and ‘natural,’ drive our industry to formulate and manufacture natural foods and dietary supplements in a transparent fashion. Sales are far from suffering. That said, the stakes are high. We may not be facing displacement, but we could easily be subject to stealth replacement.

The hardest customer to sell on the value of organic and natural is the government; state and federal politicians and regulators who steward the definitions of food, dietary supplements and drugs. Their declaration of what is safe defines pesticide use and soil health. Label regulation is the preferred vehicle for restrictions; dietary supplements may not claim to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat or prevent a disease. And, loopholes: No Genetically Engineered (GE) label is required for products with no discernable trace of DNA, even if produced using GE crops. I do worry that DSHEA has not kept up with science or technology, but perhaps not for the reasons or risks most fear. The fact is DSHEA doesn’t have the teeth to prevent encroachment of GE material in the dietary supplement supply chain.

The next negative Wall Street Journal or New York Times headline could come from many sources. Just recently, in Iowa the prosecution of the largest case of organic fraud resulted in a sentence of more than 10 years and death by suicide of the perpetrator. Chinks in the inspection process and greed are breeding grounds for “salting” product with nonorganic material. An unclear Country of Origin policy allows South American beef to be labeled as a grass-fed Product of the USA simply because it is packaged in the USA, not because it meets an authentic definition of grass fed. This undercuts the true price of USA grass fed meat and jeopardizes the financial health of family ranchers. In the meantime, collagen sales increase 30% annually. Where does all that collagen come from? There isn’t enough grass-fed source material to meet that demand. But the sneaky one, the one no one is jumping up and down about yet, is the use of genetic engineering to create ingredients derived from GMO vats of yeast.

Here’s a short list of ingredients consumers believe to be derived from nature that are currently under GMO 2.0 development:

  • Amino Acids
  • Cannabinoids
  • Chondroitin
  • CoQ10

The list is long and growing. The techniques varied and complicated. You can learn more at SynBioWatch.

There is no evidence they are safe, nor proof they will be dangerous, because only time will tell their impact. And, in the name of progress, and the mischaracterization of sustainability, organizations and regulations have declared it unnecessary to label their presence. No doubt we can, and do, mess with Mother Nature. She’ll be fine in the end. Though it might require she shake us off in the process.

As an organized species, we rely heavily on the organizations created to advocate for our interests. Some are more successful than others. They are generally the mission-driven groups who are hell bent at putting themselves out of business by being successful. The non-profits who lose sight of their mission are finding themselves in a pickle these days. The Grocery Manufacturers Association was brought to its knees when it walked away from GMO labeling and lost several of its flagship members. Where there is a void, it will be filled. We now have a plethora of new regenerative and organic organizations demanding higher standards. The Organic & Natural Health Association itself was founded to fill a void and redefine the relationship between consumer and corporation. This is no time to sit on the sidelines. No time to cash in on bankruptcy of intention, commitment or character.

Conversations are robust, but extremely siloed. There is no unified industry agreement to keep GE out of the supply chain. There is disagreement on labeling requirements among the trade associations. There is a lack of awareness of the economic threat to organic, and the potential displacement of authentic plant-based ingredients. A lack of unified representation diminishes the power of the consumer and prevents the determination of a solution set.  The clock is ticking, and there is little time for courtship as we work to cobble together the perfect solution and tie it with a bow.

Organic & Natural stands committed to consumer education on this issue and the research to support identification of GE ingredients and any differential in value, efficacy or safety of their consumption. We will advocate for transparency in labeling. Consider this a rallying cry, because others are already at the rally. A new coalition of companies who grow meat, poultry and seafood products from animal cells have formed AMPS (the Alliance for Meat, Poultry & Seafood Innovation).  The founding members, who reportedly don’t even have products on the market yet, will be playing catch-up with the regulatory controversy for this burgeoning market, representing the industry’s interests in Washington.

Organic & Natural extends an open invitation to all organizations and companies who wish to participate in a full-blown consumer education campaign on this issue to contact us. Let’s not be caught sitting still. Let’s not abandon what is good for the consumer for the sake of the company. We are sticking to our core belief that what is good for the consumer is good for the company, and even more importantly, the planet.

 

Note: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher and editors of WholeFoods Magazine.

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Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of Organic & Natural Health Association
Karen Howard, CEO and Executive Director of Organic & Natural Health Association is a visionary and results-focused leader who has spent more than 30 years working with Congress, state legislatures and healthcare organizations to develop innovative healthcare policy and programs. She has held a variety of executive positions, including serving as professional staff for a Congressional committee, and has policy expertise in the diverse areas of integrative and complementary medicine, managed care, healthcare technology and mental health. An advocate at heart, she has worked to strategically advance the mission and vision of organizations through effective advocacy and strong collaboration. Prior to Organic & Natural Health, Howard served as executive director for both the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Schools. During her nearly 10-year tenure at AANP, she built a sustainable infrastructure, significantly improved financial performance, established a strong federal presence and supported multiple state association advocacy efforts for licensure. Also during this time, the naturopathic medicine profession established itself as a key component of comprehensive healthcare for the future. www.organicandnatural.org

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