Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Co-op Farm Fest 2013

 by Shane Smith, Outreach Coordinator

We want to thank everyone who brought all of those wonderful homemade pot luck dishes out to this year’s Co-op Farm Fest held at the Vegetable Ranch in Warner on September 8. We also want to thank Larry Pletcher and his Vegetable Ranch staff for hosting the event, getting parking areas created, and for clearing the field where the tent was set up. We also want to thank the Dusty Gray Band for entertaining us and keeping our feet tapping throughout the afternoon.
This event was unique for us. Planning started weeks in advance and set up started several days in advance. Tents had to be assembled, port-o-potties set up, electric generators wired, tables brought in and food prepared.  The wood fire (about 1 cord of wood was used) was lit at 7PM the evening before to provide enough coals or the pig to go into the smoker at 3AM and the fire needed to be tended to throughout the night, in order  to be served at 2:30PM. Marketing Manager Greg Lessard and Executive Chef Scott Jones pulled out all the stops and brought in cots and tents to get a little sleep before guests began arriving.  In all they were on hand festival duties for 24 hours.
Why go through all of this effort for a Co-op Farm Fest? Our main objective was to provide members with a direct experience of where some of their food comes from and to get to know  other members to mingle and have fun. We talk a lot about our hoop house at the Vegetable Ranch, which we are very proud of, and Farm Fest offered members to see it firsthand.
Given the success of Farm Fest (we had an estimated 500 members in attendance) we are planning similar events for 2014.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

HB660: Fresh from The GMO Labeling Public Hearing

by Maria Noel Groves, Co-op Wellness Educator & Newsletter Editor

Today I was fortunate enough to be able to sit in on one of the public hearings for NH House Bill (HB) 660, which would require the labeling of genetically modified food in our state. This hearing featured a testimony from renowned food safety expert Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union before the state's House Agriculture Subcommittee. He has several decades of experience and is an internationally respected expert on food safety and labeling laws. He has worked on state, national, and international levels on the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food chain. I was in good company among Co-op board member and local farmer Derek Owen, the NOFA-NH Executive Director Janet Wilkinson and Public Policy & Advocacy committee chair Alex Simpson, among others. Here are some highlights from his talk and conversation with the subcommittee members:
  • One of Hansen's key concerns was the supposed safety of GMOs in the food chain. Although GMO foods have been prevalent in our food system for several decades, Hansen stressed that very little rigorous scientific proof of safety is required by the Food and Drug Association (FDA). In fact, the FDA does not require third party testing of GMOs to ensure their safety; the data comes from the companies themselves. The United States does not adhere to global standards for GMOs, safety testing, and labeling.
  • Due to the legal nature of patented products (which GMO seeds are), it's actually very difficult for unbiased third-party safety testing to take place in the United States because permission from the company making the seed is needed. The majority of US scientists testing GMO safety have financial ties to GMOs, and studies with financial ties are four times more likely to have a positive outcome compared to independent studies.
  • Independent studies conducted in other countries are more likely to have negative outcomes. Some of these studies have  found concerns with GMO safety related to allergic and adverse responses. Some have found the possibility of kidney, liver, and bone marrow damage from feeding GMO corn and soy, and the ability of GMO genes to cross horizontally into the human body when consumed.
  • One negative GMO study that has been widely criticized in the media is that of Seralini in Europe, which replicated Monsanto study data feeding GE corn to rats - but over a longer period of time - and found the liver, kidney, and heart damage. Critics say that the sample sizes were too small and that the strain of rats used have a high tendency to develop cancern. An interesting point made by Hansen is that the study mimiced Monsanto's own study's sample size and rat strain (yet Monsanto's shorter-term study is considered proof of safety), and a 3-million-euro study is underway in Europe using a similar set up. So, why is this set up ok to prove safety but inadequate to prove a lack of safety?
  • Even less safety data examines the effects of the herbicides alongside the GMOs. The vast majority of GMO crops in the US (approximately 85%) are genetically engineered to be herbicide-resistant with the intention of using increased herbicide use (such as Monsanto's glyphosate Roundup). This makes weeding and harvesting a more easily mechanized process for farmers. Herbicide exposure - through consumption and environmental effects - has been shown to be problematic for human and environmental health. You can learn more about this in the "What's So Bad About GMOs?" article Shane and I wrote for the most recent Co-op newsletter here.
  • Hansen and the subcommittee also discussed concerns less related to the potential health effects of GMOs.... 
  • Is the bill's proposed law was constitutional? Hansen maintained that it is indeed constitutional and uses similar language as other state GMO labeling bills and global agreements.
  • Will labeling GMOs would cost farmers or consumers more money? It's unlikely. Norway, for example, found no major change in price increases related to labeling. "The notion that it's going to cost a lot of money is nonsense," he says. He also points out that NH farmers will be minimally effected because we don't tend to farm the crops most likely to be GMO (wheat, soy, cotton, canola). In fact, labeling may begin to open up better availability of non-GMO seeds for farmers. Because the few companies that control the seed industry are also the companies behind GMO technology, the best seed traits often come in a GMO seed package, regardless of whether or not the desired trait (ie: disease resistance) is GMO.
  •  Non-GMO products are in great demand globally as well. At least 62 countries and more than half the world's population currently require labeling of GMO foods, said Hansen. He cited examples where the drift of GMO pollen resulted in unintended GMO rice and wheat crop contamination for farmers who hadn't planted them and cost the farmers their ability to trade their products on the global market. Quite frankly, Hansen said, the US is vulnerable because we have no controls in place nor third party GMO safety data for our country's food crops. "States with labeled products have a market advantage," he said, both nationally and globally.
  • Why are we looking to state-level legislation rather than federal? "If you want labeling on the national level, the way you're going to get it is by pushing it here," he stressed. Efforts to affect change on a national level (via legislation and the FDA) have fallen on mostly deaf ears. But as more states pass GMO labeling laws, it will act as a trigger for the federal government, and states that pass such legislation will be seen as leaders of progress and interest in consumer safety. One of the subcommittee members said that in a recent conversation with Congresswoman Annie Kuster (who is the first NH legislator to sit on the federal Agriculture Committee in 70 years!), that Kuster agreed with the importance of state-level change affecting the nation.

Do YOU Want to See GMO Foods Labeled? Get Involved! 

Attend the screening of Genetic Roulette this Monday, September 9, at 7 pm, which is part of the Green Concord Green Living Series at Red River Theatres and is sponsored by the Concord Food Co-op. We look forward to the panel discussion with four important local experts:
Click here for more details, to see the trailer, and to buy tickets (just $7!) online.
Let your local legislators know what you think! Find your legislators and their contact info here.

To stay abreast of the NH GMO labeling happenings, check out and stay tuned to the Co-op's newsletter, Facebook page, and email list.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Monadnock Food Co-op

by Shane Smith, Outreach Coordinator
Our GM Paula, with MFC GM, Michael Faber
The Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene, New Hampshire will open its doors on April 3, after a four-year-long journey. Part of this journey included early groundwork through an organization called the Food Co-op Initiative. The Food Co-op Initiative is a key source of support for communities just starting out on the road to opening a food co-op. The Food Co-op Initiative works with new groups to get their fundamentals secure and set their vision high, so they’re on firm footing from day one.
New display cases!
The Monadnock Food Co-op applied to the Initiative’s Seed Grant Program where they received $10,000 in seed money.  The Monadnock Co-op was one of 13 food co-op start-ups to apply for the grant on 2011-in 2012 there were 31 applications submitted.
Concord Co-op brings lunch for the staff
After working since 2008 as a volunteer committee of the Monadnock Farm and Community Connection Program, the Monadnock Food Co-op incorporated in April, 2010. Since 2011, close to 1,200 families have joined the Monadnock Food Co-op as Member-Owners, contributing over $100,000 in Member Equity and $800,000 in member loans.

Departments include health and beauty, bulk food, meat, produce, frozen food, dairy, beer and wine as well as a deli with a prepared foods section and a small cafĂ© seating area.  They will strive to carry products that connect their regional farmers and shoppers, so members know where their food comes from.
Fingers crossed for April 3 opening

Friday, March 15, 2013

GMO Update

by Shane Smith, Outreach Coordinator
We have the right to know what is in our food and  NH citizens have sent the message that they want GMO food to be labeled.  The petition, sponsored by State Rep. Maureen Mann and Rep. Ian Raymonds suggest that the majority of Americans want GMO food labeled now.

Illustration by Co-op designer Torin Judd
Since the campaign began in February NH citizens have added over 6,000 signatures to the campaign. Currently the Environment and Agriculture Committee has retained the bill, so it won't go to the Senate until the fall.  Thank you to all who signed the petition at the Co-op where we gathered well over 600 signatures for this bill.  Similar legislation just passed in the Vermont House. Across the country many such bills have been introduced to state legislatures and the issue is clearly picking up steam beyond just the normal "crunchy" channels. Although Prop 37 was narrowly defeated in California last November, the campaign forced Monsanto and the biotech giants to spend $45 million to defeat the measure. That's a record expenditure by the world's largest toxic pesticide companies to try to prevent consumers from knowing what they're buying. Remember: GMOs are the only products that consumers accidentally purchase without knowing what they're buying.
The Concord Food Co-op belongs to a group called the National Cooperative Grocers Association where we partner with  other Co-ops for increased buying power,  resource sharing and a bigger political voice than we could have by ourselves. In response to the GMO isue, NCGA had this response. "Last week, we sent a letter to all Co+op Deals partners reminding them of NCGA's work on the national level to fight the deregulation of GMOs and calling for the mandatory labeling of GMO foods. This letter also reinforced the importance of GMO labeling to our co-ops and their shoppers, and urged vendors to show leadership by supporting consumers' right to information to make informed purchase decisions. NCGA's category managers have been directed to require formal written responses, by April 1, from those industry partners that have been targets of the boycott in response to prop 37. Although we continue to believe that boycotts of companies whose parent organizations contribute to anti-labeling campaigns are ineffective due to the small percentage overall these brands represent of multi-nationals, we are vigorously leveraging our trade relationships to communicate the values of our co-ops and their shoppers. We will share a synopsis of the formal responses from the industry that we receive later next month."

Illustration by Co-op designer Brad Turgeon
Last week, Whole Foods announced all products sold at Whole Foods Market stores containing genetically modified organisms will clearly labeled within five years. This makes the company the first national grocery chain to set a deadline for what it terms “full GMO transparency.” Up to the 2018 deadline, Whole Foods says it will work in collaboration with its suppliers as they transition to sourcing non-GMO ingredients or to clearly labeling products with ingredients containing GMOs.

As a co-op, we are dedicated to meeting the needs of all of our customers. We support the right of consumers to make their own purchase decisions. We also support their right to accurate information to make those decisions. However, it would be impossible for our co-op to test every product available in the market for GMOs. We can't tell you which products do contain GMOs, we can only tell you which products do not (certified organic and non-GMO verified). The GMO labeling requirements is one of the most important consumer health legislation introduced in recent years.  The Concord Food Co-op will continue to advocate for full disclosure and to keep you informed throughout the legislative process.