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Consumption: Practicing Precision -- Week 2 without GMOs

by Patrick Groneman
(follow Patrick on Twitter)

Last week, Lisa Montanarelli wrote about a few Smart Phone Apps that help consumers know whether or not a food product is GMO Free.  (More info about why that might matter in last week's post).

Since I don’t have an iPhone (I’m a blackberry guy), many of these on-the-go resources aren’t available for me, and so I’m often left with packaging labels to guide me.

Part of my Buddhist practice lately has been an effort to step out of the world of unverified allegations, or taking things in  "good faith", and looking more closely at the facts of my own experience.  It is a practice of engaging in precision, and manifesting healthy skepticism -- both of which are not my forté.

In traditional Buddhist iconography, there is the example of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of discriminating wisdom, who wields a flaming sword, representing the clarity of mind that “cuts through” delusion and duality. 

In the case of my non-GMO experiment, I'm seeking clarity around statements made on food packaging and food company websites that I'm willing to just take on "good faith".

On a package of Kind Granola, the words “Non GMO” appear beneath the phrase "No Refined Sugars".  On a package of Kukicha Green tea, bold red and white lettering more boldly proclaim “Just say NO to GMOS.”

And through a conversation on facebook, I was informed of a allegation on Trader Joe’s website, that ALL of their store brand products are GMO-Free:



“Our customers can be assured that all products in Trader Joe's private label are sourced from non-genetically modified ingredients....Our process has been to identify any product containing ingredients that could potentially be derived from genetically engineered crops and work with our suppliers to replace offending ingredients with acceptable alternatives.”

I thought that was a very bold assertion, but since I'm practicing precision, I wanted to know more.  I contacted their customer service to ask about their product verification processes.

Their response, was, well, imprecise:

“Thank you for your email. Trader Joe's does not allow the use of gmo sourced ingredients for any of our private label products, which includes any soy, corn or canola oil.  We could not make our statement without certification from our ingredient sources.”

I kept thinking about one statistic I found, that 94% of soybeans grown in the US are Genetically Engineered, and since soy is in so many products in the form of oil or protein additive, verifying that 6% takes a lot of precision.   What exactly are their certification practices?  Who exactly grows their soybeans?  I'm awaiting another reply from them.

Yesterday morning, I was offered some Blue Diamond almonds by a friend, and took to the web to find their policy around GMO ingredients:

“Blue Diamond uses California almonds grown by our grower co-operative members without the use of genetic engineering or gene manipulation. The varieties of almonds available were developed using traditional agricultural breeding techniques.“

Again, it felt like a great intention, but I wanted more details!  

Where I felt a greater sense of precision on this issue was in a pamphlet I picked up at Whole Foods on “genetically engineered foods”.   They were very straightforward about the fact that many of their products are not GMO-free:

“When developing our store brand products, we work with our manufacturers to source non-genetically engineered ingredients.  If those ingredients are not commercially available, we encourage producers to work to meet this goal...”

But they were also super clear about what foods are verifiably GMO-free, and what the actual verification process looks like.

“..Beginning in July 2009, we established a partnership with the Non-GMO Project, to verify and label our store brand food products using the nations’ first authoritative standard....

The Product Verification program uses a process that combines on-site facility audits, document-based review and DNA testing to verify compliance with the standard at every level of the supply chain...products bearing this seal began arriving in our stores late 2009”


All this to say, that now I have a choice for the remainder of Responsible Consumption Month:  I can choose to eat only verifiably GMO-Free foods (Labeled Organic or Verified by the Non-GMO Project) or I can take Trader Joe’s and Blue Diamond on good faith and invite their allegations into my digestive system.



As one Zen Proverb puts it, practice takes:

"Great Faith. Great Doubt. Great Effort."

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Manjushri Bronze Sculpture ca.1700s - Image Use via Wikimedia Commons, Courtesy of Flickr User Forever Wise
 

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Comments

Sorry for not linking to you last week!

Patrick,

Thanks for contacting TJ's customer service. Can't wait to hear what they say next!

I'm not intentionally copying your every move on the RC blog, but somehow I got so caught up in finishing the Teacher Training reading last week that I missed this post. Clearly, this is an opportunity to acknowledge a mindfulness glitch!

Please don't feel you need to link to me every week, but I went back and linked my Week 2 to yours. After all, you posted it the day before, and readers need to find the lowdown on TJs easily.

Haven't decided what to do about the TJs issue. Friends at the Rainbow Coop in SF were talking about "Traitor Joe's" back in the mid-90s, but I thought the chain had improved its labor & environmental practices more than it has.

For globs of online references, see below. After RC Month, I might need to go on an Internet fast! ;-)

In non-GMO solidarity,
Lisa

http://www.chow.com/food-news/54340/who-makes-trader-joes-food/
http://www.utne.com/Environment/The-EcoMyth-of-Trader-Joes.aspx
http://www.utne.com/Wild-Green/Do-You-Want-Hexane-With-Your-Veggie-Burge...
http://www.cornucopia.org/soysurvey/soy_profiles/FarmID_24.html
http://cornucopia.org/soysurvey/OrganicSoyReport/behindthebean_color_fin...
http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_24285.cfm
http://www.organicconsumers.org/gefood/traderjoesge.cfm
http://www.organicconsumers.org/monsanto/documents/TJ-GMO-Flyer.pdf
http://www.goinggreentoday.com/blog/how-sustainable-is-trader-joes/
http://gothamist.com/2012/02/10/trader_joes_buckles_will_pay_penny.php
http://www.lamag.com/features/story.aspx?ID=1515075
http://money.cnn.com/2010/08/20/news/companies/inside_trader_joes_full_v...

Most gmo soy is not planted for direct human consumption

The vast majority of soy in the US is planted as cow feed. Verifying that "food-grade" soy is GMO free is not the needle in the haystack the initial statistic of 6% makes it seem.

Good detail point.  If I

Good detail point.  If I think about it from an agricultural perspective, that 6% is still pretty staggering.

Moo hoo! ]:(:)(

This is a good point. Unfortunately, the GMO feed might be harming the cows and the humans who eat them. 

great effort

This effort you make - our beginners baby-steps- thanks Patrick, for the amazing example of creative thought, consideration,and action.
Love is reawakening to each moment!

Laziness

I am impressed by your dedication to this Pat. Thanks for being an inspiration!

Thanks

Part of me also has some subconscious grudge against TJ's, I don't know why, but maybe sticking it to them a bit will help uncover that.

Ha ha!

Sticking it to TJ's...........that is very dharmic. I really want TJ's to be better and succeed, at least so they can be better than Whole Foods. Look how swept up I am in corporate drama. ALso becasue, at times, it is the only way I can afford certain things.....

Leave the Drama for your Mama

Just brushed my teeth with TJ's toothpaste -- felt a little heartbreak.  

I do like a lot about them, I'll have to look into this more...

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