Archive for October 21st, 2012

GMOs: Trick or Treat?

Not long ago I began subscribing to an online newsletter by nutritionist Wendy Vigdor-Hess.  She used to work at Johns Hopkins’ Integrative Medicine Clinic, but to my disappointment she moved to Virginia, where she gives seminars on various wellness-related  material and does nutritional counseling.

I received an online newsletter this week from her entitled “Happy Halloween” in which she came down very hard on candy (she is completely against corn syrup, soy lecithin, and sugar) and is especially upset with GMOs, which in case you don’t know, stands for Genetically Modified Organisms.  While there are many suspicions that GMOs are responsible for poor digestive health and unusual allergies in certain individuals, it has been very hard to prove these allegations despite various studies, which have been mostly inconclusive.  Proposition 37, which will be voted on in the November elections in California, is a labeling law that will require all packaged food manufacturers to state whether their products contain GMOs.

So what is an example of a GMO?  Any seed that has been genetically modified in any way:  e.g. to resist bugs so possibly less pesticides will be necessary;  to resist drought so that crops will improve their yield in challenging conditions.  However, as big businesses such as Monsanto have “patented” their seeds, they have basically monopolized the seed business at the expense of “heirloom” varieties which have all but become extinct.  For those who fear that the rise in food-related allergies (i.e peanut allergies, gluten intolerance, etc.) and sinister illnesses may somehow be related to GMOs, it is difficult for them to avoid products that contain them without the special labeling they seek.  And this is only the tip of the iceberg . . . there is so much, much more about the GMO controversy (both pro and con) that time and space prevent me from further elaboration within this post.

The following excerpt is a letter to an editor of the Times-Standard, a newspaper in Northern California:

“I was undecided on Proposition 37, the genetically modified organism labeling initiative. Now I’m voting against it.

70 percent to 80 percent of our food contains at least some genetically modified ingredients. Since the vast majority contains GMOs, we can assume they’re GMOs unless told otherwise.

Isn’t it backwards to label the majority of foods with something we should already know? Makes more sense to label foods that are different. Some producers already label their products “GMO free.” Let them expand that practice and let what’s already working, work.

Proposition 37 is also ripe for lawsuit abuse. Grocers would have to know where their products came from, what’s in them and have paperwork to back it up. You can bet certain lawyers are taking a close look at how to make a fast buck with this.

Proponents’ arguments usually include an attack on companies that produce GMO ingredients and that’s what this is really about: a slap at big business. They cite many issues with GMOs — some real, some imagined — but this initiative does nothing to address those. It’s simply to harass businesses. Vote NO on Prop 37.”

As for myself, I am trying to understand both sides of the issue and am undecided as to how I would vote (I do not live in California so in any case it’s a moot point for me personally).  I do feel suspicious of GMOs but my “feelings” are anecdotal and certainly not scientific.  What I do know is that we Americans are eating a lot of crap, and it’s killing us slowly – – and  not so slowly.  But when I hear financially comfortable people brag about their all-organic food supply I cannot help but feel some disgust:  of course people who are poor eat highly processed food!  Why wouldn’t they, when they can afford to feed a family of five with dinner at McDonald’s for a fraction of what it would cost to have a “healthy” meal?  So while I personally, at this phase in my life, am trying very hard to eat healthier, I do it not only because I want to – – but because I can.  Not everyone has that luxury, and I certainly would not be able to spend big bucks on organic produce on my husband’s current salary (while paying Jewish Day School tuition) if I was raising my four children all over again!

But back to Wendy Vigdor-Hess.  In her newsletter she said something that greatly offended me, and I wrote her to politely express my dismay.  She suggested that for Halloween, people should boycott Hershey, Godiva, Nestle and M&Ms candy makers this year during Halloween, because

“THESE COMPANIES MAY (emphasis mine) HAVE GMOs IN THEIR CANDY (yes, sad for those who love them; hopefully if Proposition 37 passes and we see labeling of GMOs we will find otherwise.):  CONSIDER BOYCOTTING THEM THIS YEAR TIL WE KNOW FOR SURE OR THERE IS REFORMULATION?”


“Wait a minute here,” I wrote back to her.  “Since when do we enact a boycott against companies until we have all the facts?  They *may* use GMOs – – but we don’t *know* that for sure.  In the good ol’ US of A, the last I heard, a person (or corporation) is innocent until proven guilty!”  And why target only those four companies, when there are so many candy companies in the US selling junk food during Halloween?

To her credit, Wendy Vigdor-Hess responded almost immediately, informing me that she would send an addendum to her newsletter restating her thoughts (while we both agreed that in fact the companies probably do use products with GMOs since basically all non-organic corn and soy is genetically modified in the US).   As I stated in my letter to her,

“I appreciate your willingness to restate it differently (I’m no fan of candy companies either, btw!)  I’m just so very tired of so much black and white and not enough gray in terms of people’s attitudes.  People are very emotionally reactive (and yes, in today’s world there is a lot to get excited about).  People have VERY strong feelings these days about just about everything, and whether justified or not, it seems to be affecting so much common decency, respect and tolerance – and I’m speaking about both the Right and the Left!  And this seems not only to be a problem in the US, but worldwide.  Sigh.  I guess we can only strive to be kind, try to remain independent thinkers, and pass that on to our kids, in hopes for a better tomorrow.”

Okay, anyone who knows me in real life must be thinking, since when did I get so maudlin?  But the truth is, I am very dismayed to see the polarization of people in the US as a result of politics and media influence, and the general nastiness in people which seems to have taken over (to which I am thankfully oblivious here in rural Maine in my little rose-colored utopia).  Anyway, here is the revised newsletter that Wendy -Hess sent to her readership:

“Greetings again to all!  I am writing again so soon to highlight a few points that I stated in my last newsletter.  A reader wrote back to me with some great points that are worth mentioning.

1.  Soy and corn are two of the most genetically modified foods on the planet today.  I have discussed this in other writings and on the podcast as well.  This said, most candy contains high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin or other ingredients containing corn and/or soy.  What can you do?

a.  Check labels for corn and soy ingredients (or other common names for these foods). In my book, I have lists of many common names for soy and corn and the products where they are commonly found.  If the corn and soy listed on the label are not organic, it is likely they contain GMOs.  There is no way to know for sure without labeling for GMOs but the possibility remains.  This also includes sugar or cane sugar since sugar beets have also been genetically modified and it is difficult to know which labels that state sugar are GMO sugar from sugar beets or from other sources.

This is not meant to be a downer, more just to provide information for you.  As the reader shared (point sincerely taken), we cannot presume someone guilty before found innocent.  There are more companies than the 4 mentioned that potentially use GMO ingredients.  The reason I chose to highlight and list the four candy companies in my last newsletter is because they have not supported passing Proposition 37; a question remains as to why.  If you are interested in reading more and/or seeing a chart outlining more about the organic industry, please visit  There is also information to learn more about the companies who support and who oppose the passing of this important proposition.  Again, to be clear, this doesn’t explicitly say who is using GMOs and who isn’t; this is just a guide to provide you with more information and to perhaps investigate this issue more thoroughly.  Hopefully, after you review this, you’ll have no “tricks”, only “treats” in knowing truth and then you can decide for yourself.

b.  For Halloween, there are “treats” to give out other than candy (as written in the earlier email). There is also candy that is made without GMO corn and soy if that is of more interest to you.  If the verbiage (and/or reality) of “boycotting” certain companies seems to be mean-spirited or negative to you, find a way to keep the “treats of the holiday” in integrity with your values.

My intention in writing on this topic stems from a deep love of the earth and a passion for raising healthy children so that our earth and children will thrive for many generations to come. Remaining firm and vigilant in our pursuit for a loving world comes with opposition and many different charged emotions.

There is never one right answer, there are many ways and many roads.  Allow the light of your truth to flicker in your heart to see how you can kindly reach answers for yourself while hearing your friends, neighbors and others who may not agree.  Saying YES to Proposition 37 doesn’t change your freedom of choice, it only provides you with more information to make decisions that work best for you.

Our opinions matter.  If the reader hadn’t written to me to share her thoughts, I likely wouldn’t have written this addendum.  She made a difference and so can you!  It takes courage to change your spending habits. Choose differently when called to, and voice your opinion even if unsure of how it will be received.  NOW IS THE TIME.  Peaceful resolution is possible as is change.  If our cells are changing all of the time, we can consciously choose to change too.

To the reader who shared her thoughts, I thank you for caring enough to speak your truth.  It highlights this time so well.  We may all feel charged and passionate about our truth and even if it doesn’t agree with someone elses, we can strive for a peaceful resolution.  Perhaps even no resolution but at least hearing each other is the biggest lesson learned.  If you are interested in at least supporting labeling for GMOs or shopping with that in mind, here are some resources for you:”

Please do exercise your privilege to vote in this election, and don’t take it lightly.  But let’s also try to be nice to one another,  okay?

Pretty please.