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Celebrate Your Right to Choose Non GMOs

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Celebrate Your Right to Choose Non GMOs

Kaye Spector

The Non-GMO Project is celebrating the third annual Non-GMO Month during October against a backdrop of rising consumer and manufacturer demand for non-GMO product labeling.

Demand for the label has gotten so high that the board overseeing the certification program recently decided to expand it. Sales of non-GMO labeled products have reached more than $3.5 billion in the three years since the launch of the label.

At the same time, U.S. retail sales of non-GMO foods and beverages are projected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 12.9 percent in the next five years, Packaged Facts predicted in a recent report. Non-GMO sales could represent 30 percent of the U.S. market with a value of $264 billion in 2017, the report said. 

GMOS are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding. In the U.S., GMOs are in up to 80 percent of conventionally processed food.

More than 80 percent of GMOs grown worldwide are engineered to tolerate herbicides. As a result, use of toxic herbicides like Roundup has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced. GMO crops are also responsible for the emergence of super weeds and super bugs that can only be killed with more toxic poisons like 2,4-D (a major ingredient in Agent Orange). Scientists have linked these poisons to an often-fatal immune system cancer in farmers, among other adverse effects.

The long-term impact of GMOs are unknown, and they cannot be recalled once released into the environment.

The Non-GMO Project confers the labeling for non-GMO food and products. The group is North America's only third-party verification organization. 

The organization was formed in the absence of mandatory labeling by the government. But in 2013, 26 states proposed measures that would mandate clear labeling of genetically engineered ingredients on food packages. The hottest battle ground right now is in Washington state, where on Nov. 5, voters will decide on Proposition I-522, a citizen initiative that would mandate GMO labeling. The measure has pitted consumer and farmers' advocates against the multibillion-dollar agribusiness corporations.

Non-GMO Month was created to raise awareness about genetically modified organisms. Last year, more than 1,500 stores participated in Non-GMO Month in communities across the U.S. and Canada.

How to celebrate Non-GMO Month? Read up on the topic, choose food and products that are Non-GMO Verified or check out some events and activities.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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