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Environment

Green America Takes on GMOs

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJuly 22, 2013 11:45 PM

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As if the meaning of "natural" wasn't already overly twisted for ideological and commercial purposes. Check out this campaign recently launched by the nonprofit Green America:

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Here's the pitch:

If you thought that one way to cut GMOs from your diet was to avoid foods with high-risk GMO ingredients, think again. Meat and dairy products, while not genetically modified themselves, are not immune to the insidious impacts of GMOs. In fact, your favorite yogurt brand may be made with “Monsanto Milk” – milk from cows that are fed GMO silage.

The horror! I bet that the baby of Rosemary's Baby has suckled on Monsanto's Milk. Let's return to Green America's campaign propaganda:

Greek yogurt, popular today for its high protein content, is likely made with milk from cows fed GMOs, unless otherwise specified. It’s impossible for consumers to know which meat and dairy products are derived from GMO-fed livestock, unless the product has gone through the Non-GMO Project’s certification for non-GMO feed, recently approved by the USDA as a credible label. Even more than regular yogurt, Greek yogurt relies on a lot of “Monsanto Milk” since it is strained more than regular yogurt (It takes roughly 4 ounces of milk to make 1 ounce of Greek Yogurt). And Greek yogurt is gaining in popularity every day!

This cannot stand! Fortunately, the good people at Green America have organized a call to action and recommended an alternative to Monsanto's Milk (their emphasis):

We hope you will join us in calling on Chobani to shift to non-GMO feed for their cows, to help accelerate the shift to a non GMO food system! Take action now!

And in the meantime, we hope you will choose organic and non-GMO verified Greek yogurt choices for your family, such as Stonyfield Farm or Straus Family Creamery.

Hmm, that's a curious thing. In addition to meeting Green America's criteria for a non-GMO product, have either of these companies recently donated to Green America, I wondered. I went to the financial page of its website, where the organization has posted a 2011 audit, its 2011 IRS 990 statement, and its 2012 annual report. According to its most recent financial disclosures, between 2007-2011 Green America has received a total of $18,628,054 in contributions. Its 2012 annual report lists 150,000 individual members (the average member pays an annual $25.00 fee.) and 5,000 business members. But nowhere could I find a listing of donors. This is not required by law. According to GrantSpace:

The list of donors filed with Form 990 is specifically excluded from the information available for public inspection, except for donors to private foundations and political organizations. This means that trying to learn who has donated to a particular nonprofit can be challenging. However, some nonprofits may thank their donors, particularly major donors, in public documents, like annual reports, newsletters, or their web sites. But be aware that these donor lists may not be comprehensive or indicate the donation amount.

As it happens, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, which "helps donors make informed giving decisions and promotes high standards of conduct among organizations that solicit contributions from the public," rates Green America as "unresponsive" to requests for information, saying:

This charitable organization has not responded to written BBB requests for information or has declined to be evaluated in relation to BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.

Well, that's not very progressive-like behavior, especially from an organization that promotes transparency. While I continued my search for donor information on Green America, I called their offices directly and left a message. Elizabeth O'Connell, Campaigns Director for Green America, called me back promptly. I asked her outright if either Stonyfield Farm or Straus Family Creamery had donated money to Green America. She said no. When I mentioned to O'Connell that I wasn't able to find any disclosure of specific funding sources (such as companies and foundations), she admitted that such information was not publicly revealed by Green America. Now perhaps that's no big deal to some people. But it's a practice that doesn't seem consistent with the "right to know" rallying cry of an organization's campaign. Personally, I'm more concerned with the conduct of an advocacy campaign, whether it's honestly trying to inform and educate people. To learn more about the underlying basis for Green America's anti-GMO advocacy, let's go to its 2012 annual report, where it announces the campaign "to get GMOs off the breakfast tables of millions of Americans." Here's the reasoning:

Too much of the food people eat is NOT SAFE. It is contaminated with chemicals, pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It contributes to obesity and disease. And its production pollutes the soil, water and air. The impact on people and planet is alarming especially for our kids. We’re witnessing skyrocketing rates of asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders, autism, birth defects and cancer. Here at Green America, as we study the intersection between health and the environment, we’re getting increasingly alarmed by both the impacts and the massive expansion of genetically modified food. A French study released in September found that rats fed GMO corn develop tumors and serious organ damage. The professor of molecular biology who led the French research team stated that the rats’ diet was comparable to the kind of exposure that humans who eat GMO foods get. The food industry is literally treating our kids like lab rats: At least 94% of the corn crop, 88% of the soy crop and 95% of the sugar beet crop are GMO... We want GMOs and pesticides off your plate, out of our food and out of the environment for everyone. We’re going to educate millions of Americans about the dangers of GMOs in processed food—and how local, organic food is the answer.

I'll leave it up to others to judge the merits of the aforementioned health concerns and a discredited French study, and whether this is part of a campaign to educate Americans or scare them senseless. UPDATE: In the comments, Karl Haro von Mogel points to the backers of Green America's new anti-GMO campaign.

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