Green America Takes on GMOs

By Keith Kloor | July 22, 2013 2:45 pm

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:

Chobani Action Banner

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.

  • bobito

    “We’re witnessing skyrocketing rates of asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders, autism, birth defects and cancer.”

    Hey! I though vaccines caused those things!!! What gives!?!?

    Clearly the anti-GMO and anti-Vax folks need to figure out which evil is responsible for which ailment or it will just seem like they are throwing things against the wall to see what sticks.

    • Odin Matanguihan

      “We’re witnessing skyrocketing rates of asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders, autism, birth defects and cancer.”

      Must I add that those increasing rates are happening while internet use is also skyrocketing? :P

      • Charles Rader

        The skyrocketing rates of cancer are a complete myth. According to the National Cancer Institute, the age adjusted rate of diagnoses of cancer per 100,000 population rose dramatically between 1975 and 1992 but has actually fallen since then.

        • Odin Matanguihan

          I was being sarcastic.

          • Charles Rader

            Yes, but the Green America quote in the story was not sarcastic. It was meant literally, and it’s one of many examples of how GMO food gets stigmatized by propaganda. Something doesn’t have to be true to be effective propaganda.

    • Skeptico
  • http://pdiff.weebly.com/ Pdiff

    They lose all credibility when they get to “It is contaminated with chemicals, …” :-/

  • mem_somerville

    We want GMOs and pesticides off your plate, out of our food and out of the environment for everyone.

    Yeah, they just want labels. Riiiiiiggggghhhhttttt.

  • Tom

    I just realized that there is a perfect correlation between the introduction of GMOs and the sudden increase in hipsters. Golden rice isn’t worth it!

  • Karl Haro von Mogel

    Green America runs the “GMO Inside” campaign, and here is their press release for the campaign:
    http://www.greenamerica.org/about/newsroom/releases/2012-11-08-New-Green-America-GMO-Inside-Campaign-Denounces-Corporate-Disinformation-campaign-that-defeated-Californias-Prop-37.cfm
    This campaign is being sponsored and run by several industry groups and companies, including Nature’s Path and Nutiva, and are also employing Vani Hari, aka the “Food Babe” who makes stuff up all over the place. Jeffrey Smith’s IRT organization is also on board. I wouldn’t doubt that seeking additional industry partners and funding sources would be part of their campaign strategy.
    It’s a pretty simple plan: Drum up fear about competitor’s products while plugging sponsor’s and their allies’ products. It’s hardly the thing that an environmental nonprofit organization should be engaged in: being the anti-GMO industry’s astroturf.

    • Karl Haro von Mogel

      Oh, they also advertise their “partner brands” her on their Pinterest page: http://pinterest.com/gmoinside/gmoinside-partner-brands/

    • mem_somerville

      Wha?

      Vani Hari is a management consultant, food activist writer and a two time elected North Carolina delegate, endorsed by President Obama.

      She was endorsed by Obama for what exactly?

      Seem their grasp of facts is…um…pretty much what I expected.

      • Karl Haro von Mogel

        I think she means she got her photo taken with him twice?

      • Drew Spencer

        “two time elected North Carolina delegate, endorsed by President Obama.” This phrase really only makes sense if you understand the presidential primary process. Each state political party elects delegates who then go to the national convention to elect that party’s presidential candidate. It sounds like she was elected specifically to go vote for President Obama. I can’t be 100% sure without knowing the actual facts from North Carolina, but I bet her “endorsement” from Obama only meant that his campaign wanted people to elect her because she had promised to vote for Obama at the convention.

  • Buddy199

    We want GMOs and pesticides off your plate, out of our food and out of the environment for everyone.
    —————
    Thanks for looking out for me because you think I’m too stupid to do it myself, but I’d rather you mind your own goddam business. I despise Nanny Staters; everyone must be shoe-horned into their weird little version of Utopia, like it or not.

    • Zafar Bukhari

      Do you assume the FDA is looking out for you ? …and more to the point, do you have the information as to the chemicals which reside in the tissues of the food on your plate ?

      • Neil

        yeah I’ve heard GM food contains acid!!!!!! Like aspartic acid! OMG, OMG, OMG!!! And the FDA is covering it up! I read that on a website somewhere!!

  • Jake

    I know how to save the planet: Let’s go back to an inefficient food system and turn our backs on genetic engineering! I mean, who needs to feed billions of people when we can all save the planet one trip to Whole Foods at a time? I mean, can’t those starving Sub-Saharan Africans just go to Trader Joe’s to get “all natural” products with a fancy USDA label?

    Seriously…

    What bothers me most is that the USDA actually has a label for “non-GMO feed” animal products. I like to believe that there are real scientists in government agencies.

  • Norm Benson

    No food should be labelled as natural with the exception of wild game, wild mushrooms, and wild berries. Everything else has been modified.

  • Neil

    I just went to the “Take Action Now” link and changed the email to this:

    Subject: Please use whatever feed you want for your cows

    Body:

    GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. This is the scientific opinion of the WHO, National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of the UK, the AAAS and essentially every regulatory agency (including the FDA, USDA, EPA, EFSA and ANZFSA).

    Please do not feel compelled to make this completely unnecessary change to your product. It will not save a single life or reduce the number of hospital visits at all. It will not benefit the environment.

    I like your product just the way it is.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Nice of them to provide the link for me.

  • JonFrum

    Big oil, big organic, little difference

  • Citizen for Sanity

    We have way too many people on this planet. I say let them eat pesticides and herbicides! The world’s largest chemical companies (Monsanto, DuPont, 3M) are undoubtedly far more concerned with making sure our food supply is safe than they are with making money. Go GMO, it’s great for population control!

  • NYFarmer

    Chobani doesn’t own cows. They buy milk from several hundred family farmers in rural NY, like mine. The average size of our farms up here is about 113 cows. NY’s combined farms are stewarding some 7 million acres of land that provides food and many ecosystem services. Green America may also not know that it is virtually impossible for us to buy grain guaranteed GMO free grain. The only other possibility would be organic grain at roughly double the cost of the grain we get from the local feed mill. Even for my herd, a relatively small herd of 60 cows, my feed bill would double from $35,000 to $70,000. With profit margins thin or even negative, huge cost increases would bankrupt most of NY’s farms, especially the smaller ones.
    With the floods in rural NY, our crops have been wiped out. My neighbors have planted a GMO corn variety that might be able to deliver in the few months we have left until frost. Their survival is staked to survival of that GMO corn. I just wish people knew the reality, not the rhetoric. Upstate NY already has some 3,000,000 acres of abandoned farmland as dairy farmers have given up in droves.

    • Buddy199

      It always amazes me how activists will squash the livelihoods of anyone who stands in the way of their dream, with no guilt or hesitation whatsoever. Best of luck.

    • mem_somerville

      This .

      Thank you for bringing that perspective. This really amounts to an assault on the dairy farmers, who I am sure care very deeply about the health of their herds. And on the quality of their product.

      Green America kicks small dairy farmers. Nice organization.

  • jh

    Keith,

    Nice sleuthing on the funding.

    I’m curious why this organization is not a “political” organization – does that mean it doesn’t make campaign contributions?

    I like this phrase from the promotional material:

    “high-risk GMO ingredients”

    !!! That’s a laugher. I’d say that it’s organic and non-gmo ingredients that pose the highest risk to world food supplies.

  • kdk33

    Gee Keith. You seem awful worked up over GMO’s these days (not nearly as exciting as climate – so I’m requesting more climate porn please). Anyhooter….

    This isn’t a food safety argument, it’s special pleading. It is the liberal version of less-filling : tastes great.

    See in a free market society, companies can advertise any feature of their product they want (drink our beer and you’ll bed beautiful women) and consumers are left to choose. In a free market, no-GMO food could advertise as such and wait to see if consumers are willing to pay a premium. Governments should intervene only to the extent that the claims are false.

    In liberal land, companies appeal to government to crown them winner – cronyism, special pleading, “outlaw GMO’s” and eliminate the competition.

    The anti-GMO crowd and the green energy crowd have a lot in common. It’s not easy being green without government protection.

  • Loren Eaton

    ‘Greek yogurt relies on a lot of “Monsanto Milk”’ Do they rely on ‘Pioneer Milk’ and ‘Syngenta Milk’ as well? Maybe it should be labeled;-)

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, a senior editor at Cosmos magazine, and adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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