Think going GMO-free is tough? Think again. Here are five steps you can take at your own pace, as time, budget and energy allows:
The simplest step to becoming GMO free is to begin buying organic food–as much or as little as you can afford. I know this step can feel daunting to families who are already struggling with their grocery bill… just take it in baby steps. Every little bit you buy reduces the amount of pesticides you eat. Is USDA Organic GMO Free? Yep… most of the time!
Here are four ways to make organic more affordable:
• More and more discount warehouses like Costco are carrying organic foods–including meat, dairy, produce and packaged goods like Amy’s soups and Nature’s Path cereals–at very affordable prices. Trader Joes offers their own store brand of affordable foods that are both organic and GMO-free.
• Organic coupons abound… check out this page of our website for a list of sources.
• Consider joining a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, which delivers a box loaded with local, organic vegetables to your doorstep on a regular basis for a minimal cost (usually around $20). Learn more about CSAs by clicking here, then find a CSA in your area on this website (choose ‘CSA’ in the ‘What are you looking for’ box to the right of the map).
• If you’ve got some outdoor space with sunshine, even if it’s just a patio, deck, or parking strip, plant some container vegetables or a small garden. If you’ve got no space to grow, see if there’s a local community garden plot near you that might have some available space. Either way, check out this excellent resource page listing GMO-free seeds state-by-state, then get started with the helpful “how to start your first garden” tips on this website.
Remember, it’s not that organic food is more expensive, it’s that non-organic food is cheaper because it has been industrialized and heavily subsidized—to the point that it holds little nutritional value. When we buy more organic, we activate the law of supply and demand to begin shifting food manufacturers away from GMO ingredients (it’s already happening!).
Once you’ve mastered the habit of buying organic, try choosing only those organic brands that are owned by private individuals and families. Why does this matter?
In the last decade, all sorts of huge food manufacturing corporations have been buying up small organic companies for a little “greenwashing,” not to mention getting their corporate hands on some of the ever-increasing dollars spent on organic food.
Most of the time, the corporation allows the organic division to continue to uphold USDA Organic standards… so it’s not so much an issue of product quality deteriorating (though that can happen).
What matters most is this: whenever you buy a product from a corporate-owned organic brand, your dollars go back to that corporation—many of which donated millions of dollars to oppose California’s GMO Labeling Proposition 37. Check out the full list of GMO labeling opposers / donors here… yes, it’s daunting too! But rather than let it daunt you, simply focus on the family-owned organic brands that support GMO labeling.
I’ve begun collecting my own list of family-owned organic companies on this page.
What does buying from private-owned or family-owned companies have to do with being GMO Free?
• These are the companies that are still in direct control of decision-making, and typically are more accessible and transparent to us as consumers.
• If they are not aware of GMOs, they may not realize they’re already GMO-free (if they are selling USDA or 100% organic products). It’s a simple step to contact them and ask them to help promote the GMO Free message (not to mention it’s a wise marketing move for them to add this message to their product labels and website).
• If they are already aware of and opposed to GMOs (and most family-owned organic companies are), they have a unique ability to raise awareness by spreading the GMO Free message to consumers. Buying their products helps them accomplish this awareness.
• Last, but perhaps of more importance, supporting these companies drives more dollars into the hands of ethical businesses, rather than mega food corporations that greenwash themselves with organics while diverting money to fight GMO labeling.
So you’re buying all organic food, and you’ve made a list of your favorite family-owned companies to support. Hooray, that is a HUGE accomplishment!
Luckily for you, moving to step 3 is pretty easy, since most of the companies in Level 2 are also in Level 3: farms and food manufacturers that help spread the word about GMOs.
How can you tell which farms or product manufacturers are a “GMO Educator?”
• Look on their package labels, where they often provide some type of education about what a GMO is, and why they’re opposed to them (in addition to a GMO free or Non-GMO Project label).
• Learn more about their company, to see if they sponsor community programs that support organic agriculture, and/or implement sustainable practices on the job for their employees.
• Check out their website and/or blog, where a true GMO Educator typically provides information that explains what a GMO is, describes the hazards of genetically engineered food, and includes a strong position against GMOs in their mission statement. If you can’t find this information in their “About” section, look for a statement on their “FAQs” page.
• Some of the most dedicated GMO Educators donated to support GMO labeling. Examples include Natures’s Path Foods (donated $660,709); Lundberg Family Farms (donated $251,500); Amy’s Kitchen (donated $200,000); Clif Bar (donated $100,000); Organic Valley (donated $100,000); Annie’s Naturals (donated $50,000); and Nutiva (donated $50,000).
What does buying from GMO Educators have to do with being GMO Free?
More awareness = more informed shoppers = less GMO support = higher chance of passing GMO labeling measures (at least on a state level, which is the first tipping point for national GMO labeling success).
What other step can you do to free yourself of harmful food ingredients while supporting both the organic industry and public awareness about GMOs? Choose organic from companies who are family owned, dedicated to GMO education, and… LOCAL.
In addition to the long list of positive benefits on this website, the benefits of buying local include:
• Supports the farmers who have chosen to follow organic, sustainable farming practices, especially in light of the extra costs they incur for inspections, certifications, and for purchasing quality items like non-GMO livestock feed, organic hay, and organic heirloom seeds.
Remember, organic farmers are currently “swimming upstream” amidst an overall lack of financial support from the Farm Bill, which dedicates the majority of its dollars to corporate programs such as genetic engineering, and subsidies for factory farms and chemical-based farming methods. Everything we can do to support the efforts of organic farmers strengthens the organic industry at large.
• Strengthens the community in which you live, by providing robust business and employment opportunities.
• Helps protect the environment by reducing the need for long-distance transportation, which results in lower fossil fuel consumption and less carbon emissions
• Supports your family with produce that’s almost always more fresh and healthy. As we mentioned in Level 1, getting your produce from a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA)—which is typically a family owned, organic farm in your local area—is a great way to get fresh, organic, healthy vegetables for juicing, snacking, and meals, while supporting the benefits of buying local.
Does buying local guarantee GMO free?
If you’re buying from an established, well-known, 100% organic farm or business, the answer is likely yes. But don’t hesitate to ask about their processes, their seed sources, feed sources, and other aspects of being a truly 100% organic operation (if they are GMO-free and it’s not mentioned on their website, encourage them to add it!).
How can you tell if a farmer is truly organic?
Ask them! Those who are truly dedicated to proper growing practices are usually quite proud and passionate about the extra efforts they take, and more than willing to discuss everything from seeds to soil and methodology.
More established farms will often have a website: just like GMO eduators, those who are passionate about organics often provide more detailed information about their organic approach and dedication.
Even better, visit their farm—it can be a fun day outing, and for families with kids, it’s a great way to help educate the next generation.
Yes, there have been reports of farmers’ market tables displaying “organic” signs on produce because they “don’t use pesticides,” selling “organic” eggs from chickens who are eating GMO feed, or worse, purchasing produce from a grocery store and selling it as their own. As always, the onus is on us, the consumer, to read labels, research brands, and “know our farmers.” If it turns out they had no clue that “organic” meant using non-GMO seeds or feeds (or any of the other organic requirements), consider it a chance to gently, cheerfully, and kindly educate them.
Level 5: Go All Out
This is for all you over-achievers (yes, I know you’re out there!) Once you’ve mastered the first four levels, begin applying those same principals to everything you buy–from dietary supplements and personal care items, to cleaning products, household supplies, and even clothing made from organic cotton.
Think of it this way: every dollar you spend supports the organic industry, which by the innate laws of supply and demand, helps bring this country closer to the day that GMOs are labeled (least case), or outright banned (best case).
Long before Monsanto began inserting the genes of foreign species into plants to make them withstand heavy doses of pesticides and herbicides, there was no such thing as “organic food.” Our grandparents simply called it “food.” It’s time to take back our food, our rights, and our health!
Want to do more?
• Sign a petition.
• Print out this document and give it to your doctor.
• Print out this letter and give it to the manager at your local food store.
• Spend $3.00 to rent Genetic Roulette (the documentary) and get your local school, church, and community group to host a movie night.
• Contact your local, regional, and national legislators.