Musings about our farm, organic farming, regional foods and markets.

Plus, what's in the news about foods, systems and regulations around the world.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Last pick of the year

Last pick of the year at our farm. A mix of arugula, tatsoi, mizuna, and baby kale from our unheated greenhouses. Going down to minus 14 Celsius tonight, so that's it for winter greens, I think... Now the ground can freeze, and we can go into hibernation, or bear time!
Next greens will be baby spring ones, come April.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Holy Basil!

The first indoor Brick Works farmers market of the season was a bustling one on Saturday. Midst frenzied sales, a woman with bright radiant eyes approached our stand and said: “Oh, you sell Tulsi (holy basil) Tea..”  I told her, that, yes, we actually grew holy basil this year for the first time. It grew profusely, bushing out into a mat of light green topped with purple flowers. We harvested it at peak flower, dried it and bottled some into tulsi tea. The customer was very glad to hear that it was grown without pesticides and is, indeed, certified organic, grown locally on our farm. She was even more pleased to inhale the complex fruity aroma and sense the vital energy in it. “You know what holy basil is?”, she asked knowingly. I knew it principally as an all-round health tonic, widely used in India. Her eyes lit up as she described how holy basil helps us to adapt to toxins, impurities, even background radiation that are around us in our environment. She happily purchased a jar.

When I got home, I looked up holy basil. Holy Basil functions as an adaptogen, enhancing the body's natural response to physical and emotional stress. Adaptogenic herbs help the body function optimally during times of stress.

“An adaptogen is a botanical that greatly improves your body's ability to adapt to stress, whether it's a hectic schedule, heat or cold, noise, high altitudes or any number of other stressors. This elite class of herbs impart strength, energy, stamina, endurance, and improve mental clarity.” – Chris Kilham, Oprah & Friends

In many parts of the non-Western world, adaptogens are used extensively in high-risk, fast-reflex occupations, from athletes to miners to deep sea divers. With the scientific data to back these natural wonders already available and more research under way, it is only a matter of time before adaptogens begin making their mark in North America. Other adaptogens include ashwagandha, eleuthero, maca, panax ginseng, rhodiola rosea, schisandra.

My encounter with this radiant customer made some recent feelings of anger, sadness, resentment and helplessness engendered by outside world events ebb away, replaced by all those qualities Chris Kilham noted - strength, energy, stamina, endurance, and improve mental clarity. The energy of holy basil alone effected this. Home again, tired but relaxed after another market day, I made myself a cup of tulsi tea and doubled down on its uplifting effect.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Garlic Is Planted

True garlic planting weather is here. Grey skies, blustery winds, rain showers ushered in the time to put these babies to bed for the winter. We also planted a few rows of garlic seed to produce spring garlic next year. Just the hay mulch duvet to apply and the eight rows will be snug ahead of the freeze and snow.

Gundi also put her castells and candlesticks to bed this week, planting them out on a grassy bank at the top of the laneway (see picture above). They look happy, perky even, and they gleam in the sunlight. Gundi too is happy, with a sense of closure after having these creations sitting about idly, unsold for too long.

The field greens are mostly plowed under and hay bales have been rolled out to provide mulch and a rest to hard working beds in our top field. We did the same last year to beds in the lower field. A milpa three sisters mix of corn, beans and zucchini was planted into the hay in the spring, and by summer the worm activity and healthy vegetable production were a joy to behold. The hay is now worked right in to the soil, enriching it deeply.

So, it is now down to the two greenhouses to produce the fall greens for the rest of the year, until winter holidays call us away to Cuba. With the easing of farming pressures, now is a good time to get away for a break in the old country. My niece Anna is marrying her Dan in Shrewsbury, so I will get to see family (including my two sisters, three nieces, one nephew, one brother-in-law) again. After a few days solo in Snowdonia, I am also getting together at a north Wales farmhouse to reunite with Neil, Andy, and Jeremy, my Oxford college buddies. Unbelievably, it is now almost forty years since we met at Pot Hall! The two Brick Works markets that I will be away for on November 15 and 22 will be the first misses of the year. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Colourful Mustard Greens

What a glorious clear, bright, sunny day, with the fall colours intensifying. The mustard greens are getting colourful too. At Evergreen Don Valley Brick Works market tomorrow, we will have arugula, spicy & mixed greens, lettuce mix, lots of garlic, fresh romano beans, 100% grass-fed beef (including steaks, roasts, ground, stew, ribs). Maybe see you there?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Celebrating Organic

Content From: Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA)
From The Globe & Mail 
Bees on the lavender at Rolling Hills Organics last summer; hardly any bees this summer

What started over a couple drinks one night during the recession has turned into a nationwide celebration with an ever-growing number of participants from all walks of life, says Matthew Holmes, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA).
Canada’s National Organic Week, held from September 20 to 28, is the largest annual celebration of organic food, farming and products across the country. Organized by COTA, Canadian Organic Growers (COG) and the Canadian Health Food Association (CHFA), the event’s popularity reflects the high regard Canadians have for organic, says Holmes.
“Organic Week started in late 2008,” he recalls. “A colleague from Canadian Organic Growers (COG) and I decided we needed a focus point for the brands and consumers that were behind organic and were driving the growth of the market.”
At the time, there wasn’t much data available, according to Holmes, who knew that the organic market was growing but didn’t have much information on who was buying organic. “Even while people were cutting back and penny-pinching, they were increasingly choosing to buy quality food for their families,” he says.

In the five years since the inception of Organic Week, the organic market has seen substantial growth. Thanks to the increasing demand for organic products, approximately 5,000 certified organic producers and manufacturers are now operating in Canada. Organic food sales reached $3.5-billion in 2012, three times what was sold in 2006, making Canada the world’s fourth largest organic market.
“Organic farming is helping to revive our rural communities,” she says. “It has attracted a whole new diverse generation of farmers in Canada, many of whom didn’t even grow up in rural settings. More and more people are choosing to farm organically because they want to be part of an amazing organic community and they have an unwavering belief in the principles of organic production.”
Another development worthy of celebration is the growing awareness that sustainably grown organic food benefits our environment, families and communities, says St Hilaire. “Canadians have become highly literate consumers, who are very conscious of what they feed themselves and their families.”
CHFA president Helen Long agrees. “Canadians can feel confident that when they purchase a product with the Canada organic logo, they are not only investing in their health, but also supporting sustainable environmentally friendly practices and animal welfare,” she says, adding that with over 1,000 members across Canada dedicated to natural health and organic products, CHFA is proud to once again support Organic Week and shine a spotlight on the important impact the organic industry has for Canadians.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The bees have found the sumac

I have been monitoring the buckwheat to see if the bees find it this year. Two years ago, I reported that wild bees were foraging in abundance on the flowers. Last summer I was sad to see only very few. Yesterday the flowers were in peak bloom and, lo and behold, the air was abuzz with pollinating insects of all kinds, including wild bees. On close inspection, I was intrigued to find them all over the staghorn sumac adjacent to the field of buckwheat, where they were feeding to a lesser extent. Wherever they find their food, that's fine with me. It is a relief to see them at all!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Isn't It Ironic?

                       Our small certified organic farm                                     GM soybean harvest
On May 24, millions of activists from around the world will once again March Against Monsanto, calling for the permanent boycott of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and other harmful agro-chemicals. Currently, marches will occur on six continents, in 52 countries, with events scheduled in over 400 cities.

May 24 this year also happens to be my 58th birthday. I will be at Evergreen Brick Works farmers market in Toronto, selling Rolling Hills Organics pre-washed salad greens (arugula, mixed greens, spicy greens, baby beet greens, baby lettuce mix, baby spinach, baby kale, baby chard), herbs and spices, and grass-fed, grass-finished beef. It is important to me to be there every week in person, to offer customers a one-on-one alternative to the chemicalized and genetically-modified offerings of the industrial food system.

Paraphrasing something that I read somewhere on the wonderful world wide web,

It is an irony that we, as a small farm, are mandated to pay annually to be verified (certified) as organic, whilst large industrial-scale farms are paid (subsidized) by our governments to grow pesticide-laden ‘commodity’ crops which are, for the most part, genetically modified and which have untested and potentially unforeseen dangerous consequences for our health and that of the biota that share the land with us.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gundi's birthday

Today is Gundi’s birthday. This afternoon we went for a walk in Warkworth along Mill Creek, seeing the river bubbling and meandering along, a hawk swoop to pick out a fish lunch, and greenery unfurling everywhere.

This Spring, after the longest winter we can remember, we have been pleased to see Nature re-assert her authority with the re-appearance of a number of our treasured creatures – bumblebees, wild bees, green frogs, purple- and gold-finches, hummingbirds, rose breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, and today, bluebirds. OK, we have to put up with groggy blackflies beginning to bite, chipmunks and squirrels filling their cheeks with sunflower seeds, and raccoons and skunks sneaking out from the undergrowth. Today we stopped the car to help a very snappy snapping turtle across the road. It is just giddying to see Spring progressing at full tilt.

As we both enjoy Spring birthdays, we get to celebrate by eating outside al fresco.  Tonight’s birthday dinner was served as the thunder was rolling overhead, and just ahead of a welcome rain. Shrimp and scallops seared in ginger, garlic and olive oil, with rice, tomato salad, super-fresh and tender asparagus picked at a neighbour’s patch and gifted us. Con Freixenet negro bubbly y vino tinto chileno (carmenère), of course. Salud!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Outdoor Market Season is here

It being the beginning of May, the outdoor farmers market season starts for us at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto’s Don Valley this Saturday, May 3. This means an early start with the alarm clock going off at 4.30am (much earlier for some farmers who travel from farther afield).  The outdoor market runs as in previous years, from 8am to 1pm.

It has been a long winter for everyone, of course, with more than our normal share of cold, snow, and especially ice. We stayed home this winter with wood-fires blazing, eyeing with envy the cheerful reports from friends in hot climes. Spring has been tortuously slow and steady, like a dripping tap. However, we now find ourselves just a little behind in our seasonal rhythm of digging the beds and planting in the greenhouses. Outside, the landscape is regaining some colour and contrast as the grasses green, the garlics poke their heads up, and the dandelions and weeds follow. Heavy rains the last few days have left the brown earth furrows in the plowed fields temporarily waterlogged.

The beds in the greenhouses are now fully planted and beginning to fill in nicely with early spring greens. At market this week, we will have bags of pre-washed arugula, baby spinach, mixed greens, spicy greens, and baby kale – all certified organic and freshly-picked on Friday, of course. Next week, there will be more of these, plus baby lettuce mix and maybe baby beet greens.

And so another growing season is underway. The joy and wonder in seeing these tiny seeds turn into succulent, nutritious food never wanes. This year, we are focusing marketing efforts on Saturday Brick Works and Tuesday afternoon (this year 2 to 7pm) Riverdale Park farmers markets.  I look forward to market season and interacting with our lovely, loyal customers once more.

See you at market!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why We Should All Eat More Organic Food

Certified organic lettuce mix growing in the fields at Rolling Hills Organics

Published at

(Follow green links for in-depth reports)

Organic Food is More Nutritious

o   Organic foods, especially raw or non-processed, contain higher levels of beta carotene, vitamins C, D and E, health-promoting polyphenols, cancer-fighting antioxidants, flavonoids that help ward off heart disease, essential fatty acids, and essential minerals.
o   On average, organic is 25% more nutritious in terms of vitamins and minerals than products derived from industrial agriculture. Since on the average, organic food's shelf price is only 20% higher than chemical food, this makes it actually cheaper, gram for gram, than chemical food, even ignoring the astronomical hidden costs (damage to health, climate, environment, and government subsidies) of industrial food production. Learn more...
o   Levels of antioxidants in milk from organic cattle are between 50% and 80% higher than normal milk. Organic wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce have between 20% and 40% more nutrients than non-organic foods. Learn more...
o   Organic food contains qualitatively higher levels of essential minerals (such as calcium, magnesium, iron and chromium), that are severely depleted in chemical foods grown on pesticide and nitrate fertilizer-abused soil. UK and US government statistics indicate that levels of trace minerals in (non-organic) fruit and vegetables fell by up to 76% between 1940 and 1991.


Organic Food is Pure Food, Free of Chemical Additives

o   Organic food doesn't contain food additives, flavor enhancers (like MSG), artificial sweeteners (like aspartame and high-fructose corn syrup), contaminants (like mercury) or preservatives (like sodium nitrate), that can cause health problems.


Organic Food Is Safer

o   Organic food doesn't contain pesticides. More than 400 chemical pesticides are routinely used in conventional farming and residues remain on non-organic food even after washing. Children are especially vulnerable to pesticide exposure. One class of pesticides, endocrine disruptors, may be responsible for early puberty and breast cancer. Pesticides are linked to asthma and cancer.
o   Organic food isn't genetically modified. Under organic standards, genetically modified (GM) crops and ingredients are prohibited.
o   Organic animals aren't given drugs. Organic farming standards prohibit the use of antibiotics, growth hormones and genetically modified vaccines in farm animals. Hormone-laced beef and dairy consumption is correlated with increased rates of breast, testis and prostate cancers.
o   Organic animals aren't fed slaughterhouse waste, blood, or manure. Eating organic reduces the risks of CJD, the human version of mad cow disease, as well as Alzheimer's.
o   Organic animals aren't fed arsenic.
o   Organic animals aren't fed byproducts of corn ethanol production (which increases the rate of E. coli contamination).
o   Organic crops aren't fertilized with toxic sewage sludge or coal waste, or irrigated with E. coli contaminated sewage water.
o   Organic food isn't irradiated. Cats fed a diet of irradiated food got multiple sclerosis within 3-4 months.
o   Organic food contains less illness-inducing bacteria. Organic chicken is free of salmonella and has a reduced incidence of campylobacter.
Organic dairy has environmental benefits: Shades of Green: Quantifying the Benefits of Organic Dairy Production

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Local Organic Food Framework

Our Western diet is leaving us open to various escalating assaults on our health. To mitigate the effects, a renewed focus on the essential nature and nutrition of food is vital.   

Please feel free to reproduce and distribute widely, referencing the author and providing a link to this page.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Seville Orange Marmalade

This year, Gundi - with some help from me - has been cooking up a fresh batch of four different types of Seville orange marmalade: regular orange and lemon, orange and lemon with organic sugar, whisky orange and lemon, and, new, ginger orange and lemon. All are tangy and thick-cut, just the way we like it!

Kellie at reports that "In common with other oranges, Seville oranges are great sources of Vitamin C and fibre, but also have useful amounts of some B vitamins, beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, lutein (for eyes), potassium and tumour-preventing beta-sitosterol, hersperetin and naringenin. The high amount of pectin found in Seville oranges is not only great for achieving ‘set’ with marmalade (you should never have to add commercial pectin) but it also binds to some carcinogens that are produced in the gut and carries them out of the body." Good news, indeed.

Armed with this marmalade (currently suffusing the house with its citrusy aroma), grass-fed beef and dried herbs, spices and teas, we will be at Evergreen Brickworks farmers market next Saturday, February 15, then weekly from March 8 on. Hard to believe that a month from now, it is traditionally time to turn over the thawing soil in the greenhouses and plant the first of the spring greens. I think we may be still skating on thin ice by then and putting off the growing season for a week or two. We’ll just have to see what Nature has in store for us next…

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Snowed-in, Blown-in

Our Massey 35 tractor stranded in deep snow (similar conditions to now) in early March, 2008. Since retired, traded in to Jack the earthmover in return for grading of our second greenhouse.
Here we are, snowed in on the farm. The long laneway out to the road is filled in with three to four foot drifts. Gundi and I snow-shoed out along it yesterday; it was crusty in parts but billowing into dunes with the wind whipping fine grains over the surface. So, we are snowed out from the world – not a great hardship with the comforts of a toasty wood-fire and bright sunshine out the window combining to keep the sharp cold at bay. We have supplies of food and drink to last us through these days, until the wind abates enough for us to have the laneway blown out. Our neighbour Sid, with his mega-tractor and rear-mounted snow-blower, will come and blow away the massive build-up and re-connect us to the outside world. I do have to meekly admit that, without very powerful machinery in extreme weather such as this (unseen around these parts for ten years or more), we would be stranded back here but for snow-shoes. There is no way we could clear such a volume of snow.

We are fortunate to be in winter mode with no tropical getaway planned this year. This is a time for catching up on writing, reading, researching soils and seeds, food and farming, healthy approaches and alternatives to this fast-encroaching world run by mad men with few morals.

 Evergreen Brickworks winter farmers market runs every Saturday of the winter. We will be making an appearance with grass-fed beef and more on February 15. On Saturday, February 22, I shall be at the annual consumer organic conference in downtown Toronto organized by the Toronto chapter of Canadian Organic Growers  This year’s show is called The Organic Vision - in Search of Change. I will be signing my book High Up in the Rolling Hills and showcasing Rolling Hills Organics herbal teas, dried herbs and spices, and a fresh batch of our tangy Seville orange marmalade. On March 8 we are back full-time every Saturday at Brickworks. By then, it is hoped that the snow and underlying ice will be thawing and little green shoots will be poking up in the greenhouses. Though frigid folks from the deep south to the far north may be denying it at this exceptional wintry time, Springtime is not so very far away.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Off-Season on the Farm

Recent screenshot from my Pinterest page,

It is off-season on the farm. Time for creative pursuits like reading, researching, and writing. I have spent quite some hours recently - through the bone-chilling weather outside, toasty by the woodstove inside - delving into some themes that fascinate and inspire me. The media by which I have made these explorations are two-fold: books in print and Pinterest. That may sound like going from the sublime to the ridiculous, but both channels have been highly rewarding.

In books, I have been taking in There is a Season by Patrick Lane, The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane, The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King, Secrets of the Soil by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, Grass, The Forgiveness of Nature by Charles Walters, The Real Crash by Peter D. Schiff, The Farm as Ecosystem by Jerry Brunetti, Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, earth works by Scott Russell Sanders, An Epidemic of Absence by Moises Velasquez-Manoff. I have been thoroughly captivated by them all.

On Pinterest, I have developed several boards of interest - Magical Places, Magical Foods, Magical Plants, Health Naturally, Art & Sculpture, Home is Where the Heart is, Green Heroes. I like the format of Pinterest; it draws the viewer in via the image, following up by opening worlds of words, detailed analysis and so deeper meaning through web links.

You can find boards from my Pinterest page that are pertinent to this blog here:

Saturday, January 4, 2014

GMO and ‘Natural’ Food Fight: Treacherous Terrain

By Ronnie Cummins 
Organic Consumers Association 

As reported at December 31, 2013 

 2014 is shaping up to be a decisive year for the future of food and farming.  Grassroots activists are gearing up for new legislative battles, including state GMO labeling laws and county bans on growing genetically engineered crops. Meanwhile the multinational food corporations last month raised the stakes in the ongoing David vs. Goliath battle by petitioning the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to allow companies to continue to label or market products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as "natural." And all signs point to efforts by industry and the FDA to float either voluntary, or watered-down mandatory GMO labeling laws that would take away states’ rights to impose strict GMO labeling laws, and also exempt a large percentage of GMO ingredients from labeling.

For more than two decades, Monsanto and Big Food have poisoned and profited with impunity, thanks to the FDA’s reckless1992 dictate that pesticide-drenched (Roundup-resistant) or insecticide-impregnated (Bt-spliced) crops and foods are “safe and substantially equivalent” to non-GE foods. Now, the Biotech Bullies and Junk Food Giants are under siege by a well-informed and passionate grassroots food movement that is determined to drastically reduce or eliminate the market share of genetically engineered and chemically-intensive foods and crops. 

Since natural health and food activists discovered the “Achilles Heel” of the GMA and processed junk food industries—mandatory labeling—there has been no stopping this movement. Over the past several years, this movement has painstakingly built a broad national coalition to demand laws requiring mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients, the same types of laws that have been passed in the European Union and scores of other nations. Food activists, bolstered by a growing number of successful class action lawsuits, are also demanding that food manufacturers and retailers put an end to the routine industry practice of fraudulently labeling or marketing products contaminated with GMOs and other chemicals as “natural” or “all natural.”

In the past two years, citizen activists in 30 states have pressured legislators to pass mandatory GMO labeling laws, with partial success in three states: Vermont, Connecticut and Maine. Anti-GMO campaigners boldly challenged the mega-billion-dollar biotech and Big Food establishment in 2012 in California (Proposition 37) and 2013 in Washington State (I-522) by launching state GMO labeling initiatives. Pro-organic and natural health activists raised a multi-million dollar war chest and mobilized millions of voters in two hard-fought and highly publicized campaigns that industry barely won (51%-49%).  Both initiatives garnered national attention. Combined, they forced the biotech and food elite to spend $70 million ($12 million of which was illegally laundered in Washington state through their front group, the Grocery Manufacturers Association) and wage a blatantly dishonest campaign that ultimately divided the industry and damaged the reputations and sales of a number of national brands, including Coca-Cola (Honest Tea and Odwalla); Pepsico (Naked Juice); General Mills (Cascadian Farm and Muir Glen); Unilever (Ben & Jerry’s); Dean Foods (Horizon, Silk, White Wave); Heinz (Heinz Organic), Nestle’s, and Kellogg’s (Kashi, Morningstar Farms, Gardenburger). 

Meanwhile, inspired in part by this anti-GMO grassroots upsurge, over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed across the U.S., charging major food corporations with labeling fraud for labeling or marketing GMO-tainted or chemically processed foods and cooking oils as “natural” or “all natural.”  Rather than admit that much of their product lines are junk foods filled with synthetic chemicals and GMOs, and that nearly the entire $70-billion “natural” products industry is based on fraud and deception (i.e. misleading health minded consumers into believing that unregulated, non-certified “natural” products are “nearly organic,”), large companies such as Pepsi, General Mills, Kellogg’s and Con-Agra, and specialty brands such as Chabani and Barbara’s will likely pay out millions of dollars in out-of-court settlements this year while quietly removing “natural” and “all natural” labels from their non-organic products.

GMO labeling laws are the cornerstone of the anti-GMO movement. But consumers are also expanding the fight by demanding outright bans on the growing of GMO crops. A number of counties in California, Washington and Hawaii have already passed bans, while a half dozen others, including counties in Oregon and California, will vote to create GMO-free zones in 2014.
Beyond “Exemptions:” Comprehensive Labeling
In a bizarre but effective propaganda move, polls reveal that Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) bamboozled millions of voters into voting “no” on mandatory GMO food labeling initiatives in California and Washington by pretending to take the side of consumers. How? By pointing out that these ballot initiatives failed to require GMO labels on restaurant, cafeteria and take-out food, and on meat and animal products. During the California and Washington campaigns, industry hammered home its message that the proposed initiatives were “incomplete,” “confusing,” “expensive” and riddled with “loopholes” that somehow benefitted nefarious “special interests.” In fact, consumers would have preferred a more comprehensive law, with no exemptions. But state laws mandate single-subject or limited provision language, and federal law preempts mandatory state labels on meat packages (though not on grocery store shelves, or on meat and dairy cases). 

In the wake of Monsanto and the GMA successfully sowing confusion over GMO labeling “exemptions,” a growing number of activists have decided to call industry’s bluff by upping the ante. Future plans include pushing not only for GMO food labeling laws, but for all-inclusive food labeling legislation that will require restaurants, schools and grocery stores to label not just foods that contain GMO ingredients, but also foods from factory farms where animals are fed GMO-contaminated feed. 

As Alexis Baden-Meyer, Political Director of the Organic Consumers Association puts it: 
“Tens of millions of Americans want to know if the food they buy contains genetically engineered ingredients. They want to know whether the meat, fish and animal products they consume come from animals reared on factory farms or CAFO’s (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), where the animals are inhumanely confined, routinely fed genetically engineered grain, injected with synthetic hormones, engorged with growth promoters and dosed with antibiotics. Concerned consumers want and need this information whether they are shopping in a grocery store, sitting down in a restaurant or worrying about what their kids are eating in the school cafeteria. After we win the upcoming strategic battles over GMO food labeling in Vermont and Oregon, organic consumers and our allies will push for comprehensive factory farm labels as well.”

Industry’s Next Move: Co-Opting the Right-to-Know Movement

Industry sees the writing on the wall. As the head of the GMA admitted last year “we can’t keep fighting these labeling battles in every state.” Monsanto, Bayer and their allies such as General Mills, Coca-Cola and Pepsi know that in 2014, several states including Vermont and Oregon will likely pass mandatory GMO food labeling laws, while a flood of successful class action lawsuits will highlight the fact that major brands are fraudulently labeling their GMO and chemically-tainted junk foods and beverages as “natural” or all natural. 

Once a greater degree of labeling transparency is required by law, even if in just a handful of states, leading food manufacturers will find themselves in a terrible bind. Will Kellogg’s or Coke admit that their products contain GMOs in Vermont or Oregon, while refusing to divulge this fact in the other 48 states, Canada and Mexico? Or will they be forced to do what they’ve already done in the EU, take these GMOs out of their products? Similarly if they can’t label their junk foods as “natural” or “all natural,” how will they successfully compete in the marketplace?

Backed into a corner by the anti-GMO movement, industry has come out fighting. The GMA has called on the Obama Administration and the FDA to bail out Big Food. If grassroots-powered state laws and class action judges will no longer permit the biotech and food industry to secretly tamper with non-organic food and then fraudulently label these products as “natural,” then industry wants the federal government to take away states’ power to require GMO labeling, and at the same time, take away the judiciary’s power to rule on fraudulently labeled “natural” products.

Leaked documents obtained by the New York Times reveal that the GMA is lobbying the FDA to allow the use of “natural” on food labels even if the products contain GMOs. As Times writer Stephanie Strom reported on Dec. 19:
“Use of the term "natural" is now generating battles similar to previous fights over terms like organic, amid initiatives in several states that seek to label foods in a more transparent way. Last summer, Connecticut passed legislation on labeling that would make it illegal to use the word "natural" on the packaging of any food product containing biotech ingredients, and the governor signed it on Dec. 11.”

At the same time former USDA officials Dan Glickman and Kathleen Merrigan are floating the idea that certain members of the organic elite might be persuaded to back off on the demand for strict GMO labeling if certified organic products are allowed to state on their labels that they are “GMO-free.” As Glickman and Merrigan told the LA Times: 
“Mandatory GMO labeling of all food will continue to arouse passions on both sides of the issue. Though it may not satisfy all GMO-labeling advocates nor be welcomed by all leaders in the biotechnology industry, allowing a GMO-free organic label provides more choice in the marketplace and responds to the demands of millions of American consumers in a practical and common sense way.”

Meanwhile informed sources in the organic industry are warning that the FDA might be preparing to propose a watered-down federal GMO labeling law designed to co-opt the organic and anti-GMO Movement and take away states’ rights to pass stricter labeling laws covering all genetically engineered ingredients basically nullifying laws now under consideration in Vermont, Oregon and several dozen other states. 

This strategy would involve the FDA allowing foods made from highly processed GE ingredients, such as cooking oils, high fructose corn syrup and sugar beets, that contain no easily detectable GE proteins down to a specified level to be labeled "natural”; and certified organic foods to be labeled as “GMO-free.” Under this strategy, labels would be required on only those foods that contain readily detectable GMO proteins, as determined by standardized tests. In other words a large percentage of GMO-tainted foods would still not have to be labeled.

So as we near victory on the GMO labeling front in Vermont and Oregon, and in class-action lawsuits this year, we must beware FDA treachery and the willingness of some in the organic and so-called “natural” industry to sell us out. If the FDA proposes a watered-down federal GMO labeling bill, or a rubber-stamp for the fraudulent industry practice of labeling GMO-tainted foods as “natural” or “all natural,” we must raise holy hell, and mobilize as never before.

Either way 2014 is shaping up to be a make or break year for citizen activism on the food and farming front, part of a larger battle that will determine whether we, the grassroots majority, take back our democracy, or surrender to the corporatocracy and their indentured media, scientists and politicians.