Sweet! We’re beating back GMO Sugar Beets

sugar beet

GMO sugar beets have only been on the market since 2008, but their market share grew rapidly, with over 90% of sugar beets being genetically modified by 2009.  Now, the tide is starting to turn against GMO sugar beets, with the percentage of all U.S. sugar derived from GMO sugar beets dropping from 47 percent to 41 percent in just one year.

GMO sugar beets were opposed from day one by food advocates, who pointed out that the technology was not adequately tested before launch.  The Center for Food Safety sued the USDA for approving the new technology without performing required environmental testing, and won.  However, the USDA let GMO sugar beets go forward despite the ruling.  USDA ultimately issued an environmental report, but that report ignored the broad environmental impacts of GMO sugar beets, including the likelihood that glyphosate-resistant beets would ultimately lead to superweeds that are themselves resistant to glyphosate, resulting in even more toxic pesticides being applied, as well as the spread of GMO beets to non-GMO fields.

In the intervening years, we’ve seen all the downsides of GMO beets, with growing pesticide use and contamination of non-GMO crops.  What wasn’t predicted back in 2008, was the amazing consumer backlash against GMOs that has grown in just a few short years. GMO Insiders have been a big part of that backlash, creating the pressure on companies like Unilever, Hershey, and General Mills.  GMO Insiders were the driving force in getting Hershey to shift to non-GMO sugar for it Hershey Bars and Kisses, Unilever to launch non-GMO Mayo, and General Mills to introduce non-GMO Cheerios.

We’ve proven that consumers increasingly don’t want GMOs, which in turn puts pressure on packaged goods companies to reject GMO ingredients from suppliers.  Ultimately, this means that more and more farmers will be moving away from GMOs, and in some cases, they are moving towards organics to meet growing consumer demand.

Thanks to all the GMO Insiders who are taking action with us to persuade the world’s largest food companies to move away from GMOs.  Together, we’re having a huge impact and turning the tide against GMOs.  Together, we can shift U.S. agriculture away from GMOs and toxins, and grow the market for organics.

Hershey’s Kisses Will Get A Makeover By 2016

2016 hershey barsHershey announced yesterday it will source enough certified and sustainable cocoa in 2016 to surpass the amount of cocoa required for the global production of four of its most popular chocolate brands including:

  • Hershey’s Bars
  • Kisses
  • Kit Kat(United States only)
  • Brookside

This announcement comes a little more than a month after Hershey announced it would transition to “simpler ingredients” in its products, including switching the sugar used in two of its flagship products (Hershey’s Bars and Kisses) from genetically modified sugar beets to sugar cane, which is non-GMO.

That means that by 2016, some of Hershey’s most iconic products, perhaps even Hershey Bars and Kisses, will not only be non-GMO, but also ethically certified as being made without child labor.

This is a huge win for consumers. For years, conscious “deep green” consumers have been pushing Hershey and other major food companies to make their products more responsibly, with a particular focus on farmers and the environment. In fact, Green America and our allies led the “Raise the Bar Hershey!” campaign and organized tens of thousands of consumers to come together and pressure Hershey to address the worst forms of child labor in its supply chain.

In October 2012, Hershey announced it would ethically certify all of its cocoa by 2020, following in the steps of other chocolate companies like Mars and Ferrero. Hershey also committed to reaching 50% by 2016, and announced in January 2015 that the company is ahead of schedule to meet this goal. Hershey’s recent announcement is another sign that Hershey is following through on its commitment to source 100% ethical chocolate by 2020.

On the non-GMO side of things, Hershey is now the leader amongst big candy companies. While Nestlé announced recently it would remove artificial flavors and dyes, it has not committed go non-GMO for any of its products or ingredients. Additionally Mars has yet to announce any non-GMO candy options.

Hershey and its competitors would be wise to continue the trend toward simpler ingredients across their offerings. According to Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, consumer food preferences are shifting quickly towards healthier options; and more than ever before, consumers are actively searching for organic and fair trade options that align with their values.

Check out our Chocolate Scorecard to find fair trade and organic chocolate options for your chocolate fix>>

Don’t Get Scared by the Candy This Halloween!

Halloween is one of those holidays that most kids can’t wait for and most parents loathe due to the high amount of unhealthy sugary candy. Many of the go-to candy brands are also loaded with GE ingredients. This year, make the switch to non-GMO and healthier Halloween treats. The Non-GMO Project and Green Halloween’s Guide to a Non-GMO Halloween is an excellent resource, which details the most common GE ingredients such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, and soybean oil along with many others. This post from Veritey covers the ingredients of many of the most popular Halloween treats and provides kid-approved alternatives. Additionally, the Natural Candy Store has a whole selection Non-GMO Project Verified snacks and candy.

Along with concerns over GMOs in your children’s candy, it is also important to be conscious of food allergies of your children and other trick-or-treaters. As GMOs have become more prevalent in our food system, so have the pesticides used to grow them. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a report on the link between a rise in pesticide use and childhood allergies. Many popular Halloween treats also have some of the most common allergens such as peanuts, dairy, soy and wheat. The Food Allergy Research & Education organization has started the teal pumpkin project. The project encourages homeowners to leave a teal-painted pumpkin on their porches to alert kids and parents that they have food-free treats. If you still want to give out an edible treat, make sure to separate those containing allergens from those that are allergen-free. Parents should be extra vigilante in checking labels during the holiday season due to the fact that increased production often means different allergen precautions for the mass produced mini versions of candies.

Besides indulging in loads of store-bought candy, make your own yummy treat. Caramel apples are a childhood favorite; there is just something about fruit wrapped up in a gooey substance that is guaranteed to get all over your face. While caramel is tasty, many brands are filled with additives and artificial colors and flavors. Here is a delicious recipe for a healthier version of caramel that can be used to dip apples.

Healthy Caramel Recipe by Stephanie Wong

* Use organic, non-GMO ingredients whenever possible.

Ingredients:
• 1 cup organic full-fat coconut milk
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• ½ cup organic coconut sugar (we like Nutiva)
• 2 tablespoons water
• 1 teaspoon organic pure vanilla extract
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Preparation:

In a small pot over medium heat, mix coconut sugar, water, and lemon juice and bring to a boil.

Immediately add the coconut milk (pour slowly), sea salt, and vanilla. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the liquid becomes thick and dark. Be sure to stir occasionally and scrape the edges of the pot with a rubber spatula to avoid burning.

Remove from heat once it’s thick and cool down to room temperature. Yields 2/3 cups.

For best results, store it in a sealed jar in the refrigerator overnight before using it.

Use it for: caramel apples, popcorn, drizzling over frozen yogurt/ice cream, or add it to other baked goods.

Don’t forget: The consistency of the caramel looks and tastes best when you refrigerate it overnight before using it. And boy does it taste soooo darn good (with less calories, sugar, and excess).

GMO Debate Dominates General Mills Shareholder Meeting

On behalf of Green America, I attended General Mills’ annual shareholder meeting this morning.  Green America holds a handful of shares so that we can have a voice as shareholders.

The topic of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) dominated the discussion, with Green America allies and me asking several questions about General Mills’ continued defense of GMOs in the face of growing public opposition.  While Ken Powell repeated last year’s rhetoric that GMOs have been proven safe by several international organizations and that General Mills supports national labeling of non-GMO products (as opposed to those with GMOs), many shareholders in the audience were on a different page.  Numerous individual shareholders voiced their concerns about GMOs and called for sustainable and safe ingredients.  As one shareholder put it, General Mills should “keep an open mind, please” about not using GMO ingredients.

GeneralMillsShareholderMeeting2014

In addition to GMOs being a topic during the Q&A portion of the meeting, there was also a shareholder resolution to eliminate GMOs from General Mills’ products brought forth by As You Sow and supported by Harriet Crosby, great granddaughter of one of the co-founders of General Mills.  Though the resolution won’t earn a majority of votes (as is often the case) and all votes are not in yet, the preliminary votes in favor of the resolution amount to shares worth $682 million.

Continuing Green America’s GMO Inside campaign’s request for General Mills to verify original Cheerios as non-GMO with a third-party, we asked Ken Powell directly why they are not doing so.  Powell replied that if they say it’s non-GMO, then it is.  What about removing GMOs from the other varieties of Cheerios?  Powell answered that oats, the only main ingredient in original Cheerios, is not genetically engineered so that’s why they were able to make original Cheerios non-GMO (though at the time, General Mills stated that it was a huge undertaking).  They won’t even bother trying to remove GMOs from the other varieties.

General Mills did speak to their efforts to reduce energy usage, water usage, and greenhouse gas emissions as well as their work with suppliers to develop more sustainable agricultural practices.  We look forward to seeing the results of these efforts.  I encouraged General Mills to include the reduction of pesticides (as well as the removal of GMOs) as a key component of improving sustainability.

The acquisition of Annie’s was also mentioned, with General Mills acknowledging the company meets consumer demand for natural and organic products and will further help General Mills’ other organic/natural lines.  General Mills also admitted that it is their organic lines that are growing most rapidly, which again raises the question of why they don’t increase the use of organics across their brands.

So the conversation for more sustainable, less toxic, truly natural products continues.

– Shireen Karimi, Green America staff

Green America goes to General Mills

Green America’s Campaign Director delivers nearly 10,000 petitions to General Mills.

Thanks to the nearly 10,000 of you that have so far taken action with GMO inside, calling on General Mills to remove GMO ingredients from their products!  Yesterday, GMO Inside, a Green America campaign, delivered 9,830 petition signatures to General Mills at their headquarters  outside of Minneapolis, MI!  

Along with the petitions, we shared our concerns about GMOs with General Mills’ team, and the fact that every day more and more consumers are learning about GMOs and demanding non-GMO choices.  Additionally, we warned them that as more states propose labeling initiatives, it will only be a matter of time before companies are required to disclose their GMO ingredients.  We encouraged General Mills to commit to dropping their genetically modified ingredients completely, in order to get ahead of the curve.

General Mills prides itself as a company that gives consumers what they want.  We need to keep letting General Mills know that what consumers really want is healthy choices for their families, free of GMO ingredients. (and if we can achieve and non-GMO food supply in the process, that’s even better!)

If you have not yet signed our petition, please sign today and share with your friends.

Table Sugar vs. High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Which is Worse?

high-fructose-corn-syrup-corn-sugar
Coca-Cola sold in the US is made with high-fructose corn syrup, while in Mexico, it’s made with cane sugar.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has gotten a bad rap for the past few years. Popular belief is that it’s worse for our health than sugar. In fact, a good friend of mine regular buys “Mexican Coca-Cola” rather than mainstream Coke because it’s made with cane sugar instead of HFCS. According to some sources, there’s a “Mexican Coke Craze” afoot in the US for this very reason.

(And yes, Coke is not an ideal  beverage by any stretch of the imagination—both from a health and a social responsibility perspective. But I digress….)

So, is the Mexican Coke Fan Club onto something? Is high-fructose corn syrup worse for you than sugar?

In a word, no.

In “Sickeningly Sweet,” our upcoming issue of the Green American, we detail numerous health effects that have been increasingly linked to overconsumption of added sugars—from obesity and heart disease to diabetes and stroke to Alzheimer’s and cancer. The culprit behind those ill effects is fructose—the sweet molecule in both table sugar and HFCS.

HFCS is 55 percent fructose, while table sugar is close behind at 50 percent. At only five percent more fructose content than HFCS, table sugar is pretty much the same dietary nightmare as HFCS.

When you eat fruit, which contains fructose, the fiber helps you digest it slowly, so you don’t get the blood-sugar spikes that contribute to ill health. Also, as blog commenter and holistic health coach Maria Hoffmeyer noted on a previous post, “The fructose in fruit comes in a package including fiber. The fiber slows down the digestion and your liver doesn’t get hit with it all at once like it does with the processed forms. Just like we ideally don’t overwhelm our liver with alcohol, we would do well to have some consideration for it as well with fructose.”

In addition, both table sugar and HFCS are highly likely to be genetically modified (GM). (What’s wrong with GM foods? See our “Frankenfood” issue for details!) Ninety-five percent of the sugar beets grown in the US are GM, which make up most of our domestic sugar supply. And if you see high-fructose corn syrup on a label, you should just assume it’s GM, as 88 percent of the corn that it comes from in the US is.

Bottom line, the Mayo Clinic notes that “controversy exists … about whether or not the body handles high-fructose corn syrup differently than table sugar.” But Mayo and Green America are on the same page when it comes to sugar and HFCS: Avoid overconsumption of both.

We at Green America take it a step further and say avoid both conventional table sugar and HFCS altogether for good health and to keep GM foods off your plate. (I should probably put quotes around “foods” when it comes after “GM” as a rule, right? Or you can just picture me making air quotes with my fingers….) If you do want to still enjoy sugary treats now and then (and how many of us are going to voluntarily give those up forever?), look for those made with cane sugar—preferably Fair Trade and organic. Cane sugar isn’t yet GM; the organic label limits the number and type of pesticides and herbicides applied to the crop; and the Fair Trade label ensures that sugar plantation workers were treated with respect, dignity, and fairness.  As for packaged foods, anything that’s certified organic will, as a rule, not contain any GM ingredients.

And, of course, everyone should try to stay within the American Heart Association recommendations most of the time for optimal health. If you want to use alternative sweeteners, see associate editor Martha van Gelder’s comparison chart in the upcoming Green American, and view her fun video preview here.

I’m happy to report that I’m doing really well with my new low-sugar, low-salt, high-leafy-green-stuff dietary adventure. As I noted previously, my palate has shifted, since I don’t get as much extra sugar and salt in my diet as I used to, and I now appreciate the natural sweetness of foods that previously didn’t taste like much at all (think roasted carrots). I feel great, I’ve lost some extra pounds that have been hanging on since my youngest daughter was born, and my mindless workday snacking is much more under control. I actually opt for carrots with raw almond butter more often than not, and I like them!

I did go off the rails the other day and have more than my fair share of Fair Trade dark chocolate, but I just jumped back on the wagon and continued my improved eating habits from that point on. The lesson there: Maybe it’s good to take a break from totally clean eating from time to time and indulge in a comfort food, to keep from feeling deprived and keep yourself on track.

How is your sugar-free or sugar-lite lifestyle coming along? Any new tips to share? Any thoughts on HFCS vs. sugar?

A Fair Deal for Global Sugar Workers

My colleagues Martha van Gelder and Tracy Fernandez Rysavy have been sharing their experience with kicking the sugar habit on this blog for the past week or so.Sickeningly Sweet

We’ve all been delving deeply into sugar issues recently, working to prepare “Sickeningly Sweet,” the latest issue of our Green American magazine, all about the American sugar habit, and its effects on our bodies and our health.

For my part, I confess to being a little stunned at the amount of sugar Americans consume per capita, partially because I don’t tend to consume that much sugar myself.   I don’t keep any sugar-boosted foods in my house — no soda pop, no sugary breakfast cereals, no sweet treats like boxed cookies or or ice cream, and no processed snacks with hidden sugars.   I don’t even put sugar in my coffee, and if a recipe calls for a bit of sweetness, I’m likely to either leave the sugar out, or replace with a few drops of organic honey, maple syrup, or molasses.

Continue reading “A Fair Deal for Global Sugar Workers”