What is Organic

My Expo West: eating, partying and learning along the way

expowest logoI attended Expo West in early March and was astounded by the activity, creativity and energy the show offered this year. Not only were there over 67,000 eager attendees and 2,600 festive booths, but the educational sessions were packed with information and thought leadership. It lead me to reflect on how far we have come as an industry and how far we have yet to go in redefining the food landscape in the US.

Even before the show floor opened, there was a palpable buzz of expectation. Even the most stoic attendees had goose bumps. Michael Franti played a “rise and shine concert” on a stage outside while participants practiced yoga to the music. I could tell these lithe yoga practitioners eat only the finest organic and natural foods! The people who arrived early to set up the booths had a brisk expectant walk as they made their way to the show floor, their arms full of abundant supplies and creative plans dancing in their heads.

Industry thought leaders had also come early to discuss various strategic plans and visions.  Topics that seemed central to the show were GMO labeling, Non GMO certification and protection of the organic label. The lay of the land on GMO labeling is changing swiftly in the aftermath of defeats in California and Washington State. A multitude of GMO state initiatives are springing forth with vitality unseen before. From Oregon to Colorado and New York, the energy and awareness cannot be ignored. How do we coordinate the message in each state?  How in the world do we fund them all? What about the proposed federal bills that want to make state initiatives illegal? How do we get more congressional leaders to sign onto the Boxer/ DeFazio bill requiring mandatory federal labeling? Well, there certainly is a lot of work to be done this year and the ideas on how to accomplish our industry’s goals flowed in abundance.

Non-GMO labels are growing at expeditious rates, which represent a huge step in eliminating GMOs from our food chain. Supplies of non-GMO ingredients aren’t keeping up with demand because the growers, seeds and infrastructure just aren’t there yet. Reversing the GMO trend is going to take years.

The conversation turned to protecting the organic label and furthering education on the benefits of organic. Most folks don’t realize that organic means non-GMO and a whole lot more! We all agreed that the organic seal is the gold standard of protection and integrity and that story needs to be told. How do we best tell the story? Who is going to step up to pay that bill? Check out the hilarious  Organic Voices Video telling the story.

One idea presented Friday was an Organic Research and Promotion Program that could potentially raise money for education, promotion and research to help the organic community. The possibility for this exciting program was made available by language in the Farm Bill. I sat on the panel that discussed the ideas and presented different frameworks on how the program could potentially work. We directed participants to UNITED FOR ORE ORGANIC to learn more and weigh in.

The next day, the USDA’s Deputy Administrator of the National Organic Program, Miles McEvoy, and Anne Alonzo, Administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service,  held a listening session on the accomplishments and wins organic had in the farm bill. It turns out organic was a HUGE winner in the 2014 Agriculture Act and much of this success is due to the hard work and diligence of the OTA staff. They outlined new developments at USDA that serve organic agriculture and posted a reminder that the National organic Standards Board (NOSB) will meet at the end of April. The agenda is available for deliberation and comments. As always, the public is invited to attend and weigh in.

The Organic Center’s annual dinner was a huge culinary success Friday night, as participants networked and savored delectable organic cuisine. The esteemed scientist Chuck Benbrook was honored for his continued work promoting the organic way through research and education. We all left satiated and full of hope for the future of organic knowing people like Chuck were on our team.

That is just a brief synopsis of what I heard and learned at Expo West this year. Each of these experiences is worthy of its own blog post so look for more details in the weeks to come. My biggest take-away from the show was that the opportunity to engage with industry peers and be part of the discussion is huge. As much as commerce, writing orders and making contracts defines the show, so also does thought leadership and education. I will be sure to attend more sessions next fall at Expo East and hope to see many of you there. Until then, let’s keep talking!

Check out this video that Caroline Brooke and her sister made on Expo West. They are trying to spread the word about eating organics and staying healthy.

2 thoughts on “My Expo West: eating, partying and learning along the way”

  1. Children Food Allergies and GMO Labeling
    By Donald Sutherland

    My wife is a Girl Scout troop leader and this is the time of year she orders cookies for her troop to sell. One Girl Scout in the troop has a soy allergy, and she along with millions of other children with food allergies have to be diligent in reading the food labels to avoid eating a food ingredient which will trigger an allergen health risk. Many brands of cookies use soy products such as soy lecithin in their manufacture.

    Soy is listed by the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the FDA as one of the top 8 food allergens in the US.

    The rate of food allergies has more than doubled over the past decade, and there are now an estimated 5.9 million children in the United States with food allergies (along with another 2.3 million adults).

    The rise in children food allergies has become a national concern with almost every school in the US experiencing this health risk according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/data briefs/db10.htm#howdoes

    Highlighting this health concern is a spike in children food allergies in the US which was revealed in a 10 year CDC study showing an 18 percent increase in children food allergies from 1997-2007.

    This spike of food allergies came after federal agencies approved and permitted the introduction of a new species of laboratory created genetically engineered/modified (GE/GM) soy plants and their products in 1996.

    These GM soy plants and their GM soy products have had been identified by the CDC as allergens, but the CDC admits they have never tested for their allergen effects on children.

    Since the early 1990’s the FDA, USDA, and EPA have approved the use of patented new species of corn, soy, sugar beets, canola, and other plant species which have had their DNA genes spliced and proteins bioengineered in laboratories to produce a pesticide (ie. Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria) and to resist being harmed by herbicides manufactured by a few Fortune 500 companies.

    91 Percent of all soy grown in the US is genetically modified according to the USDA and one company (Monsanto) with its’ GM patents controls 93 percent of soy seeds sold in the US.

    Food companies have manufactured GM soy into multitudes of food products successfully spreading GM soy products into the majority of processed foods kids and adults eat from baked goods, breakfast cereals, baby formula, to snack bars. Product names including hydrogenated oils, lecithin, emulsifiers, tocopherol (a vitamin E supplement) and proteins.

    The government bodies entrusted to ensure the public’s safety (CDC, FDA, EPA) admit they are solely relying on the GM safety studies conducted by the same companies which manufacture genetically modified plants and their by-products such as soy protein, corn syrup, and sugar.

    Under federal law children are protected from food allergens that can bring on severe or life threatening reaction under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA)2 (Public Law 108-282) which requires the labeling of allergens on manufactured food products.

    In the US kids with a food allergy are alerted to danger by reading the list of CDC identified soy allergen ingredients posted on processed foods.

    Unlike the US, food labels in 64 countries list all science engineered genetically modified (GM) ingredients including GM soy products. In China GM soy is banned from direct human consumption.

    A shopper in Europe, Japan, and China can pick up a food item and its’ label can read, “genetically modified soy products, genetically modified corn syrup, genetically modified sugar”, etc. That’s a lot of attention to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and for most Americans they are largely unaware that they are eating GMOs with every bite of most processed foods.

    In 1992 the FDA established a policy that says genetically engineered and or modified organisms are developed in the same process as mother nature’s, and do not need to be labeled as a different food because they are “substantially equivalent” to its natural counterpart.

    This concept of “substantial equivalence” was endorsed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1996. The seal of “substantial equivalence” by government bodies permits the marketing of new GMO foods in the same process with respect to safety as conventional food or components, and thus saves the biotechnology companies and federal government the expense and time required to do additional safety studies for a new and different food.

    Since the rapid and controversial approval of GMO food into the American food market, scientific, environmental, and consumer safety organizations have opposed the entry of GMO foods largely on concerns that the long term consequences from bioengineered foods will have adverse health and environmental effects which have not been adequately tested.

    These organizations cite internationally recognized clinical data showing the harmful impact of genetically modified food in laboratory studies, but still the FDA says data hasn’t been presented to them to sway them from their current label policy to identify GMO foods.

    Despite national polls showing the majority of the American public want GM food to be labeled, biotechnology industries and the food companies are opposed and have been lobbying Congress, government regulatory bodies, and the public to oppose any GMO food label law that would permit a girl scout troop leader, parent, or consumer to read genetically modified products in a label.

    Fanning the public’s health and environmental concerns about GM foods was a 2013 federal rider called the Farmer Assurance Provision. The measure was removed from the US budget funding legislation by Jon Tester, a farmer and Democratic Montana senator because it assured a lack of corporate liability and undermined the Department of Agriculture’s authority to ban genetically modified crops, even if court rulings found they posed risks to human and environmental health.

    Public pressure to have GMO free products has resulted in General Mills recently announcing it will be offering GMO free Cheerios.

    In 2014 Maine joined Connecticut in passing a state GM labeling law.

    Currently, Maine and Connecticut are the only two legislatures to pass GMO labeling bills but similar legislation has been introduced in about 30 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    This year Massachusetts state legislature will be addressing GMO labeling bills. Go to these websites, contact your legislative representative, and tell them to pass GMO food labeling laws to give consumers the right to know what they are eating.

    Donald Sutherland and his wife Laura Davis are USDA certified organic farmers in Hopkinton, MA. Donald is a freelance writer and his last article “Silent Spring” appeared in ACRES

    1. Mr Donald Sutherland
      This is excellent information and I appreciate the comments. I think it is worthy of a blog subject. Would you allow me to use your information and theme?

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