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Hidden Cameras, Hidden Foods

Yesterday, Whole Foods got a big, fat reality check, courtesy of NaturalNews.com’s Organic Spies.  The first nationally certified organic grocery store was caught in a lie – several lies, in fact – and now it’s backpedaling to keep its place as the king of the health food industry.

Don’t get me wrong, I love shopping at Whole Foods.  It’s paradise for the holistically-minded, with aisles lined with organic goodies that seem to stretch to forever.  But between the organic produce and the chemical-free soaps are products like Kashi cereals, Silk soy milk, and “all-natural” tortilla chips: products that contain GMO ingredients.  I’ve known about this for as long as I’ve shopped at WF, and, in my experience, they’ve never tried to hide these facts from their customers.  But the Organic Spies visited 30 stores in California and asked WF employees if they carried GMOs, and a surprisingly large percentage said no.  That is a blatant lie, and if you watch the video, you’ll hear some pretty creative lies from these employees.  I’m not saying that WF coaches them to be dishonest, but I do find it hard to believe that this many employees are simply mis- or uninformed about their company’s policies, especially about a subject as crucial as GMOs.

Here is WF’s response to the video, posted on their blog today:

At Whole Foods Market, we believe consumers have the right to know how their food is produced and this includes whether or not it contains Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

The YouTube video showing our store Team Members giving conflicting responses to a question about GMOs reminds us that while we try to keep all our 70,000 Team Members up-to-speed on the latest information, clearly we need to do more. Some products in our stores DO contain GMOs – just like any other food store in the country, due to the pervasiveness of GMOs – and we need to do a better job of making sure our Team Members understand this so they can provide customers with the facts.

I hope you don’t believe the claims that Whole Foods Market is coaching its Team Members to give false information to its customers, because it’s completely untrue. The idea goes directly against who we are as a company – for years, we’ve worked hard to provide as much information as possible about our products to our customers.”

The post goes on to list some of the positive actions taken by WF in the fight against GMOs, including its support of Prop 37, the initiative to label GMOs which will appear on the November California ballot.  It fails to say, however, that it has not donated any money to support the bill, nor did it lend its support quickly.  The bill was introduced in May of 2012 (and the Right to Know campaign has raged even longer; I went to a rally in DC last October) and WF only announced its support of Prop 37 on September 11, 2012.  So while I don’t believe WF is in bed with Monsanto (who, might I add, has donated a whopping $7 million to defeat Prop 37) I don’t believe it is the glorious leader of the green movement as it presents itself to be.  WF has its own interests at heart, nothing more, nothing less.

Here’s the breakdown of who supports and opposes Prop 37:
In Support
-Mercola Health Resources (an awesome resource on holistic health!) – $1,100,00
-Organic Consumers Fund – $770,00
-Nature’s Path Foods – $610,709
-Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps (Fabulous products, especially for those with sensitive skin) – $344,445
-Wehah Farm, Lundberg Family Farms (Their Fiesta Lime Rice Chips are my favorite snack)- $250,000
-Amy’s Kitchen – $100,000
-Clif Bar & Co. – $100,000
-Annies’s Inc. – $50,000
-Cropp Cooperative, Organic Valley – $50,000
-New Chapter
-Eden Foods

In Opposition
-Monsanto – $7,100,500
-E.I. Dupont De Nemours & Co. – $4,900,000
-DOW Agrisciences – $2,000,000
-Bayer Cropscience – $2,000,000
-BASF Plant Science – $2,000,000
-Pepsico, Inc. (Izze Natural Sodas, Ocean Spray, Tazo teas, Sobe, Naked Juices) – $1,716,300
-Nestle USA – $1,169,400
-Coca-Cola North America (Honest Teas, Odwalla, Simply Juices) – $1,164,400
-General Mills (Cascadian Farm, Muir Glen, Larabar) – $908,200
-Kellogg Company (Kashi, Morning Star, Garden Burger, Bear Naked) – $632,500
-Hershey Company (Dagoba chocolates) – $498,006
-The J.M. Smucker Company (R.W. Knudsen, Santa Cruz) – $388,000
-Council for Biotechnology Information – $375,000
-Sara Lee – $343,600
-Dean Foods Company (Horizon Organic milk, Silk Soy milk) – $253,950
-Campbell’s Soup – $250,000
-McCormick & Company – $248,20
-Mars Food North America – $100,242
(a more comprehensive, though not complete, list can be found on Wikipedia)

Check out the Right to Know campaign’s website for more info on the campaign, including the full bill and lots of facts on GMOs.  Another great site that I stumbled on accidentally is Rodale, which has a great list of the 10 worst labeling lies to help you make informed decisions.  GMOs are pretty scary things – check out the new study on Monsanto’s GMO corn, sold at your local Walmart but banned across Europe and Asia – and so labeling them is a very important step in food safety.  If Prop 37 passes in California, then it won’t matter whether or not Whole Foods carries GMO products; eventually, they will be labeled nation-wide.  Everything has to start somewhere, though.

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The Dog Owner’s Dilemma

If you love your pet as much as we love our Banner, then you hate seeing them suffer because of fleas or ticks.  And since this past winter was so mild, all the sleeping insect larvae escaped being frozen, so fleas and ticks are in overabundance this year.  We live in a wooded area with a swamp that creeps around the edges of our back yard, so bugs thrive here – and on our puppy.  Hearing him whine and scratch incessantly is heartbreaking, and so we began our journey through the world of pest control products.

We feed our dog like we feed ourselves – better, in fact.  He gets protein-rich, grain-free Blue Buffalo food, fresh veggies and meats from the farm, and only quality treats and bones.  We didn’t want to counteract all that wholesome goodness with toxic pesticides, so we started with natural remedies.  First, we tried a solution of cedar and orange essential oils mixed with olive oil, and though it definitely repelled the fleas, it didn’t last long; it needed to be reapplied every time he went out, which is impractical for a dog who stays outside while we’re at work.  Then we tried Diatomaceous Earth, which is a powder composed of crushed shells and dried algae.  It slices the exoskeleton of bugs and causes them to slowly dehydrate and die over the course of a few days.  Sounds pretty awful, but better them than Banner!  DE does not repel bugs, however, so they just kept swarming him.  We decided that DE is great for furniture and outdoor use, but it needed to be supplemented with a flea and tick repellant.  So we made the decision to try a conventional pesticide spray, hoping that we were making the right choice.

Frontline and Advantage were definitely out.  I didn’t want anything that toxic staying on my dog for a month, and everyone I’ve talked to who’s used it said it made their dogs terribly ill.  A friend of mine has worked in a dog kennel for years, and I asked him what he recommended.  He told me about the brand Adams, the safest conventional option in his opinion.  So I did some preliminary research and found that the two main ingredients are pyrethrin, a pesticide, and Precor (the brand name for methoprene), an insect growth regulator.  Pyrethrin is derived from chrysanthemums and is not only biodegradable, but it’s broken down easily by the acids in mammals stomachs, so it’s non toxic to both pets and humans.  Methoprene is almost completely nontoxic; it does have a low level of dermal toxicity, though no long-term effects.  It is toxic to fish, however, so be careful where you apply it. Doesn’t sound too scary, right?  Adams even had a water-based option with aloe and lanolin for pets with sensitive skin.  So I trusted my friend and bought a bottle of the regular spray, and it worked wonderfully!  The first time we sprayed him, you could literally see the fleas jumping off him.  And Banner didn’t have any adverse reactions, so I thought we’d finally found our miracle solution.

I should have known better than to trust a chemical company.  When I got the bottle, I noticed that only a few ingredients are listed, while the rest fall under “other ingredients” which make up 97% of the formula.  When I called the company to find out what these other ingredients were, they refused to tell me, claiming that their formula was “proprietary information” which they were not allowed to disclose.  I discovered that they also use PBO in all their formulas, though they only advertise it in their Plus line. PBO, or piperonyl butoxide, is a toxic compound which harms the respiratory tract and impairs mental development when inhaled.  Not something you want to be spraying around your pet.  I called my vet – who is a CSA member at the organic farm where I work, so I trust her judgement of chemical usage – and she was also very surprised and upset that Adams refused to give me their ingredients.  Adams is one of the two brands she carries in her office, the other being Ovitrol.  Ovitrol uses pyrethrins and methoprene as their main ingredients as well, but sadly they also use PBO.  Their ingredient list also contains the questionable “other ingredients,” and though I have not called that company yet, I have a sneaking suspicion that they will give me the same answer as Adams.

So where does that leave us?  To be honest, I have no idea.  None of the natural remedies seemed to work.  Adams definitely worked, but between the questionable ingredients and the questionable ethics of the company, I have no desire to buy anything else from them.  I suppose the next step will be to peruse the aisles of Petsmart and hope that I have enough knowledge in my mental arsenal to make an informed and safe decision.

Here are some great websites to help you make your own decision on pest control:
Veterinary Products Laboratories.  They have ingredient info for several leading products.
Pet Education.  This site describes all the different classes of pesticides.
Doctors Foster and Smith.  Another site with great info on all the different kinds of pesticides.
PETA’s Flea Control: Safe Solutions.  Read what PETA has to say about flea control.
Mother Earth’s Natural Flea Control.  A very informative article on fleas and the different pest control products.

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Load and Bless With Fruit the Vines!

Happy autumn!  This is my favorite season, the season of the harvest (though working on a farm has made me appreciate the summer harvest sooo much more).  Yesterday, we harvested the first of the pumpkins and gourds, and it was glorious.

Welcome pumpkins, gourds, winter squash, broccoli, kale, apples, apple cider, turkeys, misty mornings, cool breezes, long sleeves, straw mazes, haunted houses, afternoon baking, candy corn.  Though winter is right around the corner and the cold is slowly creeping into the air, I can’t see this as the season of melancholy.  It’s a season of great beauty, color, and tastes.

One of my favorite places on earth is Weber’s Cider Mill Farm in Baltimore, MD.  They make the best apple cider donuts, as well as great baked goods and apple cider drinks.  They have a huge store/gift shop on their farm, as well as a barnyard, a pick-your-own apple orchard, a pumpkin walk (each year they paint characters on pumpkins, featuring fairy tale characters as well as celebs and politicians and other real VIPs), hay rides, a pumpkin patch, and a build-your-own scarecrow station.  It’s a great interactive farm experience for all ages, and if you’re ever in Maryland in the fall, I definitely recommend checking it out!

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Rape: A Word, an Act, a Law Defined By Men

In college, I was your typical liberal political junkie.  I read every news article, watched every debate, was a member of the College Democrats, volunteered for the MD Democratic gubernatorial candidate.  Now, I can’t stand hearing about politics.  Campaigns are nothing but months of mud-slinging and false promises, and both parties are defined by what the other is not rather than the ideals their constituents support.  But with the presidential election fast approaching, it’s impossible to avoid hearing bits and pieces of the coverage.  And while some of the “oopsies” are quite funny, many are not.  Like Republican Senator Todd Akin’s mindblowingly idiotic comment about rape.  In case you’re more successful than me at avoiding political news, this Republican claimed that women cannot get pregnant from rape because our bodies reject unwanted sperm.  I can’t decide which is worse, that he actually believes this, or that the Republicans will propagate such outrageous lies in their fight against women and their right to choose.

I’m not going to go into a rant about women’s rights and the government’s (aka man’s) governance of the most private parts of a woman’s body.  We’d be here forever.  But a friend of mine shared this article, and I think this speaks very clearly about men’s role in subjugating women and their most sacred of places: the womb.  Truth be told, I believe this all stems from fear.  We hold the power of life inside our bodies, a power men can never understand nor ever hope to possess.  They are jealous, and they are afraid.  Our bodies will always reign supreme over them, no matter how they try to repress us with violence or rule.

Check out Mother Jones’ article on the history of rape as defined by men.  Some of these laws are pretty sickening, all the more so because of how recently they’ve been in practice.  It this is a topic that speaks to you as much as it does me, read this short article on Jezebel about the thin line between rape and love, and about how one woman painfully learned the difference.

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Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels When You Sell Your Soul

Headlines across the nation are proclaiming the long-awaited truth: “Organic Is Overrated!”  Yes, folks, thanks to the hard work and ethical reporting of The Media, we finally have the scoop on the organic food movement, and we won’t let those liars fool us anymore.  The studies never lie, after all.

Today at the farm the news channel WBOC came to interview my bosses about the latest agricultural scandal.  (Check out the video.  That’s me cleaning beans!)  According to a review published by Stanford University in the Annals of Internal Medicine, organic food is no different from the GMOed sweet corn or the pesticide-covered tomatoes Monsanto puts on our grocery store shelves.  And while Big Ag concocts these studies all the time in their endless war on organic foods, the hype over this one stems from the fact that this isn’t a study, rather a review of studies.  So actually, no new tests were performed, no new information gathered.  You might look at this as a catalog of the attempts Monsanto has made to undermine the organic movement.

During the interview, we were out in the chemical-free fields picking beans.  All I had to do was pop one freshly picked, unwashed bean in my mouth to know my bosses were on the right side.  But unless you’ve spent time on an organic farm, or are able to reap the benefits of a local farm stand or market, I can understand why you’d believe The Media over us.  Our products are essentially look the same, but are more expensive.  And yes, the nutritional values in both organic and conventional produce are the same (but that’s because they’re still the same vegetable… duh).  So how are you to know the difference?  Since I work for Team Organic and am therefore biased, I’m just going to give you the facts and hope that you can see the clean and clear difference.

What the Study Says:
(Read the actual study for yourself in the Annals of Internal Medicine online)
-“Two studies reported significantly lower urinary pesticide levels among children consuming organic versus conventional diets, but studies of biomarker and nutrient levels in serum, urine, breast milk, and semen in adults did not identify clinically meaningful differences.”
-“The risk for contamination with detectable pesticide residues was lower among organic than conventional produce.”
-“Bacterial contamination of retail chicken and pork was common but unrelated to farming method.”
-“Limitation: Studies were heterogeneous and limited in number, and publication bias may be present.”
-“Conclusion: The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

What the Holistic Health Industry Says:
-“Preservatives and synthetic food agents found in foods inhibit oxygen and delay the development of fungus and mold, creating a longer shelf-life for products. But after being consumed, these toxins deprive human cells of oxygen and rob them of nutrients, thus leading to cell mutation and the perfect breeding ground for cancer.” (Natural News: The Food Industry Is Waging War on Your Cells With These 10 Toxic Ingredients)
-“We thought that the best way to measure the more subtle effects of this kind of intake was to monitor the reaction of intestinal cells.  And we did this in two ways: in vitro, through human intestinal-lining cells that we had cultured in the lab; and in vivo, through the intestinal linings of live chickens. Both sets of results pointed to the same thing — that exposure to nanoparticles influences the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream.”  (Gretchen Mahler, assistant professor of bioengineering at Binghamton University and lead author of the 2012 study done by Binghamton and Cornell)
-“Scientists refer to this contamination as a person’s body burden. Of the 167 chemicals found, 76 cause cancer in humans or animals, 94 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 79 cause birth defects or abnormal development. The dangers of exposure to these chemicals in combination has never been studied.”  (The Environmental Working Group’s new project: Body Burden)

What the Farmer Says
-As Ted says in the video, the nutritional value of fresh produce comes from the soil, and without healthy soil, the veggies will have lower vitamin and mineral contents.  Ted tests the soil each year and add soil amendments to balance out the nutrient levels to ensure that our produce has the highest possible nutritional value.  That, combined with the absence of chemicals, leads to truly healthy, nutritious food.

So though while organic and conventional apples may have the same amount of calories, vitamin C, and fiber, are they really the same?  Or is this just another “wooden nickel” Big Ag is throwing you to bring you over to the dark side?