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Nestle, Pepsi Fined for Concealing GMOs as Campbell Soup Announces Voluntary Label

As the food fight over genetically modified food (GMOs) rages on in the U.S., six major food manufacturers—including Nestle, PepsiCo and Mexican baking company Grupo Bimbo—have been slapped with fines by the Brazilian Ministry of Justice for concealing the presence of GMOs in their products.

Brazil is the second largest producer of GMO crops in the world after the U.S. But unlike the U.S., Brazil mandates that all products containing GMOs carry a label. Photo credit:
Greenpeace

According to teleSUR, the respective companies are facing fines ranging from $277,400 to just over $1 million, amounting to $3 million in total.

The ministry's decision came after a 2010 investigation carried out by Brazil’s Consumer Protection Agency, Senacon, which detected GMOs in various food products sold by the companies in Brazilian markets.

Senacon accused the companies of violating Brazilian consumer rights, including the right to information, freedom of choice and the right for protection against abusive corporate practices, teleSUR reported.

Since 2003, Brazilian law has required food products containing more than 1 percent of GMOs to carry a warning label—a yellow triangle with the letter "T" inside, standing for "transgenic."

Brazilian Institute of Consumer Defense researcher Ana Paula Bortoletto praised the ministry's decision to enforce GMO labels.

“The decision confirms the Ministry of Justice’s commitment to require all products that use genetically modified ingredients to include this information on their labels,” she said.

Although the ministry's decision spells victory for Brazilian consumers demanding food transparency, the country's relationship with GMOs has been fraught with contention in recent decades.

GMOs in the South American country were initially banned after the Institute of Consumer Defense won a lawsuit in 1998. In the ensuing years, however, black market GMO seeds spread widely into the agricultural space and ultimately forced the nation into adopting the technology in 2003. As Reuters described back in a 2005 report:

So sought after is the cost-cutting technology on the black market that over a third of Brazil's massive soybean crop—the main farm export worth 10 percent of total trade revenues—is seen planted with pirated GMO seeds. And nearly all the country's cotton seed has been contaminated by GMOs.

"There is strong demand, industrially and scientifically, for biotechnology in Brazil," Jorge Guimaraes, president of Brazil's CTNBio biotechnology regulator, told Reuters.

In 2003, faced with cracking down on the entire No.3 soy producing state of Rio Grande do Sul and thousands of other producers in other states, the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva after taking office opted to push for legalization and regulation of GMOs.

GMOs are now rampant in the country—Brazil is currently the second largest grower of GMO crops in the world after the U.S. According to the Genetic Literacy Project, Brazil had 104 million acres of GMO crops in production in 2014, and "more than than 93 percent of the country’s soybean crop is GM and almost 90 percent of the corn crop. GM cotton, more recently introduced, makes up 65.1 percent."

While producers of bioengineered seeds tout its resistance to certain pathogens over organic seeds, as EcoWatch reported in 2014, Brazilian farmers found that “Bt corn” no longer repelled the destructive caterpillars it was genetically modified to protect against. In turn, farmers were forced to apply extra coats of insecticides, racking up additional environmental and financial costs.

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The Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of the Mato Grosso region called on Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and Dow companies to offer solutions as well as compensate the farmers for their losses, who spent the equivalent of $54 per hectare to spray extra pesticides.

As for how the Brazilian public feels about GMOs, a 2014 study from the University of São Paulo suggests that despite the major presence of GMOs in the country, many consumers are skeptical of the food.

The authors of the study concluded that even after Brazil imposed the GMO label law, "the majority of Brazilians consumers still do not have a positive image of genetically modified foods, and do not consider it a buying option."

The negative reputation of GMOs in Brazil could perhaps explain why Nestle, PepsiCo and the others decided to skirt the country's label law.

Over in the U.S., one food company has decided to take the GMO label debate into their own hands. Campbell Soup Co., the world's largest soup maker, has initiated plans to include a GMO label on its products.

Campbell is the first major food company to respond to growing calls for food transparency spurred by food safety advocates and concerned consumers, as well as states such as Vermont, Maine and Connecticut that have passed mandatory GMO labeling laws.

According to Just Label It, 89 percent of American voters are in support of mandatory GMO labeling.

The Camden, New Jersey company said in a statement that it will support federal legislation mandating all foods and beverages regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be clearly labeled for GMOs.

Campbell “continues to oppose a patchwork of state-by-state labeling laws, which it believes are incomplete, impractical and create unnecessary confusion for customers,” according to the statement.

The company “continues to recognize that GMOs are safe, as the science indicates that foods derived from crops grown using genetically modified seeds are not nutritionally different from other foods.”

As EcoWatch exclusively reported, food industry groups have heavily lobbied politicians and spent millions in court to block states from mandating GMO labels.

In December, Congress decided not to include a policy rider in the federal omnibus spending bill that would have blocked states from implementing mandatory genetically engineered food labeling laws.

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Kevin Vallely

'Rowing the Northwest Passage' Chronicles An Expedition Through the Changing North

By Kevin Vallely

In 2013 four adventurers set out on an 80-day rowboat mission through the Arctic's rapidly melting Northwest Passage. Their journey brought them face to face with the changing seas in a world of climate change. In this excerpt from adventurer Kevin Vallely's new book about the expedition, Rowing the Northwest Passage (Greystone Books), we also see how climate change has affected some of the people the team met along their journey:

An elderly woman walks toward us from the road. Tuktoyaktuk, in the Northwest Territories, is a sizable town by Arctic standards, with a full-time population of 954, but it's small enough that the bulk of the town likely knows we're here. The woman is smiling when she reaches us.

"I saw you coming in," she says. "Where you guys come from?" "We're from Vancouver," I say, my mouth still half full of food. "We started our trip in Inuvik nine days ago." Her name is Eileen Jacobsen and she's an Elder in town. She and her husband, Billy, run a sightseeing business. "You should come up to the house in the morning and have some coffee," she tells us.

Our night's sleep in the Arctic Joule is fitful; our overindulgence runs through all of us like a thunderstorm. By seven in the morning, even with both hatches open, lighting a match in the cabin would blow us out like dirt from that Siberian crater. The roar of the Jetboil pulls me out. Frank's already up, down jacket on, preparing coffee. "You like a cup?"

It's still too early to drop by Eileen Jacobsen's house, so we walk into town on the dusty main road, our ears assaulted by a cacophony of barking dogs. Dirt is the surface of choice for roads and runways in Arctic communities, as any inflexible surface like concrete would be shredded by the annual freeze–thaw cycle. Most of the town runs the length of a thin finger of land, with the ocean on one side and a protected bay on the other. About halfway down the peninsula, a cluster of wooden crosses rests in a high grass clearing, facing west. We heard about this graveyard in Inuvik. Because of melting permafrost and wave action, it's eroding into the sea, and community members have lined the shore with large rocks to forestall its demise. This entire peninsula will face this threat in the coming years. There's not much land here to hold back a hungry ocean.

We notice an elderly man in a blue winter jacket staring at us a short distance away. He's sitting outside a small wooden house and smiles as we approach. "You guys must be the rowers," he says. "Too windy to be out rowing." His jacket hood is pulled tight over his ball cap and he dons a pair of wraparound shades with yellow lenses that would better suit a racing cyclist than a village Elder. His name is Fred Wolki, and he's lived in Tuk for the last fifty years. "I grew up on my father's boat until they sent me to school in 1944, then I came here."

His father, Jim Wolki, is a well-known fox trapper who transported his pelts from Banks Island to Herschel Island aboard his ship the North Star of Herschel Island. Interestingly, we had the Arctic Joule moored right beside the North Star at the Vancouver Maritime Museum before we left. Built in San Francisco in 1935, the North Star plied the waters of the Beaufort Sea for over thirty years, her presence in Arctic waters playing an important role in bolstering Canadian Arctic sovereignty through the Cold War.

"We're curious if things have changed much here since you were a boy," Frank says.

"Well … it's getting warmer now," Fred says, shaking his head. He gestures out to the water speaking slowly and pausing for long moments between thoughts. "Right up to the 1960s … there was old ice along the coast … The ice barely moved … It was grounded along the coastline." He looks out over the shoreline, moving his arm back and forth. "They started to fade away slowly in the 1960s … icebergs … They were huge, like big islands … They were so high, like the land at the dew Line station … over there." He points to the radar dome of the long decommissioned Distant Early Warning Line station that sits on a rise of land just east of us. "It's been twenty years since we've seen one in Tuk." There's no sentimentality or anger in Fred's voice; he's just telling us his story. "It's getting warmer now … Global warming is starting to take its toll … All the permafrost is starting to melt … Water is starting to eat away our land."

I listen to his words, amazed. There's no agenda here, no vested interest, no job creation or moneymaking—just an elderly man bearing witness to his changing world.

Excerpted from Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea by Kevin Vallely, published September 2017 by Greystone Books. Condensed and reproduced with permission from the publisher.

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President Trump may prefer to pretend that climate change isn't real—Gov. Cuomo quipped that the Trump administration is in "the State of Denial"—but these leaders detailed the extraordinary strides they're making, in the absence of White House leadership, to slash greenhouse gas emissions and grow their economies at the same time. For New Yorkers, it's exciting to see Cuomo's leadership on clean energy and climate continue to accelerate, from setting strong renewable energy goals, to a successful push with other Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative states to further slash carbon emissions, to banning fracking.

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