This Week's Post: Avoiding Food Label Confusion

This weekly blog post and its host website cover a wide variety of Fred Montague's environmental commentaries, gardening topics, and wildlife/art activities.  Please browse the website and the blog archives for topics you are interested in. 


Recent legislation regarding labeling the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in commercial food products represents a confusing compromise between consumer preference for "plain-and-simple" labels on food products and the commercial food industries' preference for no labels at all.

As a wildlife biologist, I side with the consumers' preference.  We should be able to identify and choose products whose production and processing affect both human health and the "health of the planet."  If consumers can easily choose, the referendum on the acceptance of GMOs can be made by you and me.

I have outlined in a previous post and in chapter 13 of my little hand-bound book Garden Notes:  Thoughts on Gardening, Ecology, and Sustainability several concerns regarding industrial agriculture based on genetically modified organisms.

I advocate organic gardening, organic farming, and the consumption of foods that humans have evolutionary experience with.  This approach usually involves small-scale, locally adapted growing techniques.  It does not involve large-scale, corporately controlled food production, processing, and marketing that compromises human health, land health, genetic diversity of crops, environmental quality, livestock welfare, and the dignity of farming itself.  Many acknowledge that current industrial agriculture is not sustainable.  But, we all recognize that it does provide (currently) cheap calories

Don't be confused by the food labeling controversy.  The way to know with a reasonable assurance that your food does not contain GMOs is simply to purchase only food that is labeled "USDA Certified Organic." 

As of July 2016, the following exclusions apply.  For a food to be marketed as "Organic" it must

1.  not contain genetically modified organisms;

2.  not be irradiated (exposed to radioactivity, for preservation)

3.  not be grown with human sewage (biosolids) as fertilizer;

4.  not contain non-food chemicals (for preservation, color, flavor, etc.);

There are other conditions, but these are the most important.

If a food product is not labeled "organic" assume that it is a genetically modified plant or animal that has been grown with human sewage and that it contains non-food chemicals and that it has been irradiated.

Now, you choose.

Additionally, you could grow some of your own food, and you can support local growers you know and trust.  Some farmers (and commercial gardeners) are growing foods organically but have not yet been certified (or cannot afford to be certified).  They need your encouragement and support.  At a farmers' market simply ask the grower face-to-face.

We are fortunate to have the USDA Organic program (see the current regulations of the program). Be prepared to defend the Organic Certification principles. 

Gardening: The Natural-Non-toxic Garden

My essay for the Spring 2013 issue of edibleWASATCH centers on gardening in the chemical age. It is an argument to keep toxic chemicals out of the ecological garden.

Here are the concluding paragraphs from that piece.

"In terms of dealing with the novel chemical environment that increasingly affects our landscapes, neighborhoods, work places, homes, and bodies, my advice is to avoid any unnecessary, avoidable exposure. In industrialized countries, we have immersed ourselves in a chemical milieu with which we have had very little biological experience and essentially no evolutionary experience. We cannot wishfully adapt to tolerate exposures to toxic substances. And we, as a population, can't immediately breed fast enough to adapt genetically."

"In some ways, it's choosing for ourselves and our families not to be test animals. The experience we have had in the past 68 years is alarming enough to justify exercising some commonsense skepticism. In the face of possible risk and with insufficient information about that risk, avoid the risk. Avoid the dangerous, the expensive,and the uncertain, especially if safe, economical, and certain methods are available."

"Take responsibility for your food. Grow as much as you can, and grow it organically. Make your natural, safe and non-toxic garden the foundation of your approach to health."

The section immediately below is from Gardening: An Ecological Approach where I briefly describe a dozen ecological concepts as they apply to gardening. The Edible Wasatch essay expands on this "no toxics" concept.

The "no toxics chemicals" concept, excerpted from   Gardening: An Ecological Approach  . © Fred Montague

The "no toxics chemicals" concept, excerpted from Gardening: An Ecological Approach. © Fred Montague