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News :: Social Welfare
Banner Hoist Against Whole Foods in JP
14 Mar 2011
Monday, March 14, 2011 - Shortly after six this morning a banner was hoisted on Centre and Forbes Streets in Jamaica Plain protesting the attempted takeover by Whole Foods of the former Hi-Lo market.
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Banner Hoist Against Whole Foods in
Reading "Whole Foods = Higher Rent" in English and Spanish, the banner was meant to call attention to Whole Foods' practice of gentrifying working class neighborhoods, driving out long-time residents and attracting other upscale chain stores that push real estate prices even higher.

Held in place on a traffic light overhanging the street, the banner stayed up for nearly three hours before being removed by the Boston Transportation Department.
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Banner Hoist Against Whole Foods in
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Banner Hoist Against Whole Foods in

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Whole Food's Deal with Monsanto
14 Mar 2011
The Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto: What Now?

* By Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association, Jan 27, 2011


"The policy set for GE alfalfa will most likely guide policies for other GE crops as well. True coexistence is a must." - Whole Foods Market, Jan. 21, 2011

In the wake of a 12-year battle to keep Monsanto's Genetically Engineered (GE) crops from contaminating the nation's 25,000 organic farms and ranches, America's organic consumers and producers are facing betrayal. A self-appointed cabal of the Organic Elite, spearheaded by Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm, has decided it's time to surrender to Monsanto. Top executives from these companies have publicly admitted that they no longer oppose the mass commercialization of GE crops, such as Monsanto's controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa, and are prepared to sit down and cut a deal for "coexistence" with Monsanto and USDA biotech cheerleader Tom Vilsack.

In a cleverly worded, but profoundly misleading email sent to its customers last week, Whole Foods Market, while proclaiming their support for organics and "seed purity," gave the green light to USDA bureaucrats to approve the "conditional deregulation" of Monsanto's genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant alfalfa. Beyond the regulatory euphemism of "conditional deregulation," this means that WFM and their colleagues are willing to go along with the massive planting of a chemical and energy-intensive GE perennial crop, alfalfa; guaranteed to spread its mutant genes and seeds across the nation; guaranteed to contaminate the alfalfa fed to organic animals; guaranteed to lead to massive poisoning of farm workers and destruction of the essential soil food web by the toxic herbicide, Roundup; and guaranteed to produce Roundup-resistant superweeds that will require even more deadly herbicides such as 2,4 D to be sprayed on millions of acres of alfalfa across the U.S.

In exchange for allowing Monsanto's premeditated pollution of the alfalfa gene pool, WFM wants "compensation." In exchange for a new assault on farmworkers and rural communities (a recent large-scale Swedish study found that spraying Roundup doubles farm workers' and rural residents' risk of getting cancer), WFM expects the pro-biotech USDA to begin to regulate rather than cheerlead for Monsanto. In payment for a new broad spectrum attack on the soil's crucial ability to provide nutrition for food crops and to sequester dangerous greenhouse gases (recent studies show that Roundup devastates essential soil microorganisms that provide plant nutrition and sequester climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases), WFM wants the Biotech Bully of St. Louis to agree to pay "compensation" (i.e. hush money) to farmers "for any losses related to the contamination of his crop."

In its email of Jan. 21, 2011 WFM calls for "public oversight by the USDA rather than reliance on the biotechnology industry," even though WFM knows full well that federal regulations on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) do not require pre-market safety testing, nor labeling; and that even federal judges have repeatedly ruled that so-called government "oversight" of Frankencrops such as Monsanto's sugar beets and alfalfa is basically a farce. At the end of its email, WFM admits that its surrender to Monsanto is permanent: "The policy set for GE alfalfa will most likely guide policies for other GE crops as well True coexistence is a must."

Why Is Organic Inc. Surrendering?

According to informed sources, the CEOs of WFM and Stonyfield are personal friends of former Iowa governor, now USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack, and in fact made financial contributions to Vilsack's previous electoral campaigns. Vilsack was hailed as "Governor of the Year" in 2001 by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and traveled in a Monsanto corporate jet on the campaign trail. Perhaps even more fundamental to Organic Inc.'s abject surrender is the fact that the organic elite has become more and more isolated from the concerns and passions of organic consumers and locavores. The Organic Inc. CEOs are tired of activist pressure, boycotts, and petitions. Several of them have told me this to my face. They apparently believe that the battle against GMOs has been lost, and that it's time to reach for the consolation prize. The consolation prize they seek is a so-called "coexistence" between the biotech Behemoth and the organic community that will lull the public to sleep and greenwash the unpleasant fact that Monsanto's unlabeled and unregulated genetically engineered crops are now spreading their toxic genes on 1/3 of U.S. (and 1/10 of global) crop land.

WFM and most of the largest organic companies have deliberately separated themselves from anti-GMO efforts and cut off all funding to campaigns working to label or ban GMOs. The so-called Non-GMO Project, funded by Whole Foods and giant wholesaler United Natural Foods (UNFI) is basically a greenwashing effort (although the 100% organic companies involved in this project seem to be operating in good faith) to show that certified organic foods are basically free from GMOs (we already know this since GMOs are banned in organic production), while failing to focus on so-called "natural" foods, which constitute most of WFM and UNFI's sales and are routinely contaminated with GMOs.

From their "business as usual" perspective, successful lawsuits against GMOs filed by public interest groups such as the Center for Food Safety; or noisy attacks on Monsanto by groups like the Organic Consumers Association, create bad publicity, rattle their big customers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger, Costco, Supervalu, Publix and Safeway; and remind consumers that organic crops and foods such as corn, soybeans, and canola are slowly but surely becoming contaminated by Monsanto's GMOs.

Whole Food's Dirty Little Secret: Most of the So-Called "Natural" Processed Foods and Animal Products They Sell Are Contaminated with GMOs

The main reason, however, why Whole Foods is pleading for coexistence with Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta, BASF and the rest of the biotech bullies, is that they desperately want the controversy surrounding genetically engineered foods and crops to go away. Why? Because they know, just as we do, that 2/3 of WFM's $9 billion annual sales is derived from so-called "natural" processed foods and animal products that are contaminated with GMOs. We and our allies have tested their so-called "natural" products (no doubt WFM's lab has too) containing non-organic corn and soy, and guess what: they're all contaminated with GMOs, in contrast to their certified organic products, which are basically free of GMOs, or else contain barely detectable trace amounts.

Approximately 2/3 of the products sold by Whole Foods Market and their main distributor, United Natural Foods (UNFI) are not certified organic, but rather are conventional (chemical-intensive and GMO-tainted) foods and products disguised as "natural."

Unprecedented wholesale and retail control of the organic marketplace by UNFI and Whole Foods, employing a business model of selling twice as much so-called "natural" food as certified organic food, coupled with the takeover of many organic companies by multinational food corporations such as Dean Foods, threatens the growth of the organic movement.

Covering Up GMO Contamination: Perpetrating "Natural" Fraud

Many well-meaning consumers are confused about the difference between conventional products marketed as "natural," and those nutritionally/environmentally superior and climate-friendly products that are "certified organic."

Retail stores like WFM and wholesale distributors like UNFI have failed to educate their customers about the qualitative difference between natural and certified organic, conveniently glossing over the fact that nearly all of the processed "natural" foods and products they sell contain GMOs, or else come from a "natural" supply chain where animals are force-fed GMO grains in factory farms or Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

A troubling trend in organics today is the calculated shift on the part of certain large formerly organic brands from certified organic ingredients and products to so-called "natural" ingredients. With the exception of the "grass-fed and grass-finished" meat sector, most "natural" meat, dairy, and eggs are coming from animals reared on GMO grains and drugs, and confined, entirely, or for a good portion of their lives, in CAFOs.

Whole Foods and UNFI are maximizing their profits by selling quasi-natural products at premium organic prices. Organic consumers are increasingly left without certified organic choices while genuine organic farmers and ranchers continue to lose market share to "natural" imposters. It's no wonder that less than 1% of American farmland is certified organic, while well-intentioned but misled consumers have boosted organic and "natural" purchases to $80 billion annually-approximately 12% of all grocery store sales.

Update: Whole Foods Market has offered this response to the Organic Consumers Association:

"We have seen a few comments about the OCA's misleading letter about our company. Once again, the OCA has it all wrong. We have done more than any other retailer to educate and advocate on genetically engineered food, and we are deeply committed to preserving our ability to sell non-GE food. Perhaps OCA did not understand our position. We do not have anything to do with big biotech companies' agenda!

"As tried and true pioneers of organic, we at Whole Foods Market support the preservation of seed purity, organic integrity and we are advocates of clearly labeling GMOs so that our shoppers can make informed decisions.

There are still many unanswered questions about genetic engineering and there is no mandatory labeling and little government oversight of GMOs. That's why we have spent the last couple of decades working to find a solution to offer non-GMO foods to our shoppers.

We do NOT advocate for the USDA to allow the well-funded biotech industry to monitor itself carte blanche without ongoing government oversight. Unfortunately, the USDA presented our industry with two options: total deregulation of GE alfalfa, or deregulation with some conditions to facilitate coexistence and protection of non-GE farmers.

We supported a path of coexistence, not because it's a perfect path, but because it's the only viable path that would ensure our ongoing ability to provide non-GMO foods.

Given the prevalence of GMO crops in the U.S. -- 93 percent of soy, 86 percent of corn, 93 percent of cotton and 93 percent of canola seed planted were genetically engineered in the US in 2010 -- we did not believe that a complete ban of GE alfalfa or any crop is an option that the USDA would even consider supporting, nor was it even an option.

We favor protecting organic and non-GE agriculture's property rights, and the USDA's regulatory authority is the best way to meet this goal. Our options were to have a seat at the table (and support coexistence) or to not be represented at all. We chose deregulation with restrictions so that we could represent our company, the organic food community and our shoppers.

This does not mean that we have anything to do with big biotech or that we support their agenda."

Further Updates: The news keeps pouring in on this controversial issue. Phil Bereano, a co-founder of AGRA watch, argues that by deregulating the planting of GM alfalfa, the USDA appears to be in direct contravention to its obligations under law and court decisions. A 2007 trial judge found that alfalfa farmers had established a reasonable probability that their conventional alfalfa crops would be contaminated with the engineered Roundup Ready gene if deregulation occurred.

Writing on the Community Alliance for Global Justice Website, he notes:

"There have been about 200 incidents of GE crops contaminating non-GE produce, resulting in hundreds of millions (if not billions) of dollars in damages; contamination is a real risk and one of very significant magnitude ... Thus, the Department cannot dismiss it as insignificant or rest on Monsanto's assurances that its practices render contamination unlikely ... The Department suggests that consumers will forgive unintentional contamination, but intention is irrelevant to the National Organic Standards and to the protection of human health."

Meanwhile, Tom Philpott, writing in Grist Magazine, suggests that the White House may have pressured the USDA to deregulate. In the past, USDA chief Tom Vilsack has acknowledged the dangers of cross-contamination, calling it "a significant concern for farmers who produce for non-GE markets at home and abroad."

According to Grist:

"A USDA chief had publicly declared his willingness to defy the industry, and then was seemingly forced by political pressure from above to cravenly abandon that defiance ...Unhappily, the decision falls into line with other Obama administration gestures of fealty to the agrichemical lobby."