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Have you ever wondered how anyone makes any money on a $2 bag of nacho-cheese flavored corn chips or a .25¢ apple? Economists and policy wonks have been talking about how we privatize profits and socialize loss here in the U.S. for at least a decade. If your eyes glazed over when you read that, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to ignore how this big picture idea affects each and every one of us. What does it mean for Main Street America?

We need to support the organic farmers who are creating a public benefit. Photo credit: Rodale Institute

How we grow our nation’s food is the perfect snapshot. Organic activists and locavores have also been talking about the same concept for just as long, if not longer: The hidden costs of cheap, industrial food.

We have a system of predatory agriculture in which corporations (aka Big Ag) pursue private gain relentlessly regardless of the social consequences. To bring it closer to home, social consequences can be defined as anything from polluting our water, land and air to impacting the health of our families to making the business of farming economically unsustainable.

Costs such as environmental degradation, declining health and economic insecurity aren’t reflected in the price tag because they aren’t included in corporate budgets. This is one big reason why there are plenty of profits to be made in toxic agricultural chemicals, junk food and GMOs. But these costs are a burden on us all. Like every parent tries to teach their children: Actions have consequences.

All the garbage that allows Big Ag to make obscene profits is left to our communities to clean up. Take, for example, the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico dead zones. Although caused in part by the overuse of synthetic fertilizers and poorly-timed applications of raw manures and biosolids, the negative effects and the “bill” for clean-up go to the American public.

We are what we eat, and we are carrying the costs of corporate greed. In the private profit/social loss equation farmers lose, consumers lose and communities lose.

But life cycle or true cost accounting when it comes to our food system is a numbers nightmare. How do we weigh and measure things like erosion, chemical leaching and run-off, and loss of pollinators like the honeybee and other biodiversity? How do we make a solid connection between food production/consumption and the insidious health impacts of chronic, low-dose exposure to agricultural chemicals and our obesity epidemic?

In a global summit last December whose goal was to “investigate why our current economic system makes it more profitable to produce food in ways that damage the environment and human health, instead of rewarding methods of production that deliver benefits,” world leaders recognized that not all agricultural systems are created equal. Farming that not only sustains status quo, but creates a healthier environment is possible. “Some farming methods have public benefit,” wrote Dan Imhoff in his coverage of the summit.

Luckily, it doesn’t take a global summit or a panel of researchers to figure out what to do: We need to support the organic farmers who are creating a public benefit. It isn’t just about growing more, bigger, faster. It is about nourishing ourselves, our families, our communities and the farmers who choose to feed us rather than feeding the corporate beast.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

 

What do Cheerios and apples have in common? They are the latest and very public battlegrounds for the GMO [genetically engineered organisms] debate. But these two mainstays of American childhood nutrition are headed in opposite directions. While the arctic apple, genetically modified to not brown when cut, is all but set to be approved for production, original Cheerios is now GMO-free. And while general public is wholeheartedly in support of knowing what is in their food, shoppers are still confused as to what all the labels really mean.

Now some of the very groups who dumped millions into defeating state GMO labeling laws across the country have changed tack and are pushing for a national GMO labeling law; one that only requires labels on GMOs “proven” to cause health problems. The problem? Patents and “intellectual property” laws not only severely restrict how GMOs can be researched, but have provided an easy way for the companies to discredit study results they don’t like.

While food and seed giants figure out how to take the teeth out of GMO labeling laws before they even happen, there is good news for the more than 90 percent of American consumers who want to know whether or not something contains GMOs: We already have a label.

Certified organic farmers and food producers can’t use GMOs. Ever. And there are strict regulations in place for certified organic producers to avoid GMO contamination, including testing. As Melody Meyer, vice president of policy and industry relations at UNFI and Rodale Institute business member explained recently, “In November 2012, the NOP clarified through formal rule making that testing for prohibited residues in organic products, including GMOs, MUST occur periodically (on an annual basis) and that certifiers must investigate and issue noncompliance notices accordingly to organic operations that fail to meet the requirement.”

GMOs are also only one aspect of a toxic food system. Simply choosing non-GMO does not make for healthy food. In the last five years, the American Academy of Pediatrics, President’s Cancer Panel and physicians nationwide have publicly advised us all, especially children and pregnant women, to reduce our dietary exposure to synthetic pesticides.

While debate rages on over the “safety” of GMOs, consumers who want to avoid the toxic pesticides and herbicides proven to have negative impacts on our health and wellness (and which we’re already carrying around in our bodies): We already have a label.

Certified organic farmers are required to start with good design and good management to avoid pest problems in the first place, using naturally derived products only as a last resort. The focus is on creating a healthy balance on the farm.

Organic is non-GMO and so much more.

The label isn’t new or sexy, but it is staid and proven and trustworthy. Organic farming is the most regulated kind of farming out there. And organic farms are third-party verified; not only to ensure what they aren’t doing (like using prohibited materials and practices), but to ensure they are actually being good stewards of the land and water on which we all rely.

By all means, recognize and support the incredible work non-GMO groups are doing nationwide (we do) and rally around GMO labeling (we are). But if you really want to take down the GMO giants, champion the organic farmer.

Maria Rodale recently said, “The number one thing that changes minds is when [conventional farmers] see an organic farm that works.” Members of Rodale Institute’s Heritage Society can provide critical support preserving the heritage of agriculture in our nation, while promoting and supporting the efforts of the modern organic farmer.

Organic farmers are changing the very make-up of our agricultural landscape for the better and their label reads “USDA Organic.”

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD and GMO pages for more related news on this topic. 

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