Royal OakFebruary 27, 2013
Genetically modified foods draw concern
By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer
ROYAL OAK — The saying “you are what you eat” is taking more and more of a twist as interest swells in the chemicals being used in most foods.
A movement is slowly stirring to raise awareness of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. Zachary Schafer, greater Detroit area executive director for No GMO 4 Michigan, is at the forefront of that movement.
“GMOs, that’s when they literally take another organism — usually toxic bacteria, fungus or animal — and inject it into corn, soy, sugar beets (and canola oil),” Schafer said. “(About) 85-90 percent of all processed foods contain these ingredients.”
An ongoing occurrence in food production for the past 20 years, Schafer said GMOs range from fish genes injected into tomatoes to pesticides that cause insects to explode from the insides. He said lab tests on mice have proven less than favorable, but no definitive tests have been done on humans. As such, supporters of the No GMO 4 Michigan movement are pointing to similarities between diseases the mice experienced and diseases that are more common in humans now than 20 years ago, such as sterility, breast cancer, celiac disease and diabetes.
“There’s no long-term study done on humans,” Schafer said. “I’m all about arming the citizens with information. People are starting to get hip to it. We are literally the guinea pigs for GMOs.”
In what has been growing into a national movement in recent months, Schafer, a Southfield resident, is looking to spread the word locally with an educational gathering from 1-3 p.m. March 2 at Bean & Leaf Café, 106 S. Main in Royal Oak.
“Royal Oak is great. People are kind of hip,” Schafer said. “Right now, I can only speak in terms of education. And I know there will be advocates of genetically modified organisms, and that’s fine. My job is to make this into the next Facebook, the next Twitter, so it’s common knowledge. At least you’ll know both sides and you can make an informed decision.”
Royal Oak Farmers Market Manager Shelly Mazur said GMOs, hydroponics and other related items are regularly discussed among vendors at the market.
“They talk about them all the time,” Mazur said. “They like hydroponics and no GMO. All these terms are getting controversial. Our farmers are all about sustainable farming or sustainable agriculture, meaning they only apply what they apply when it’s necessary.”
Mazur said that means the farmers will not spray their crops with pesticides unless an irregular amount of insects are attacking the crops. Otherwise, a few bugs don’t do much damage.
Although Schafer doesn’t expect to see all genetically modified foods pulled off of store shelves and out of restaurants, he would like to see the U.S. Food and Drug Administration require such foods be labeled similar to how nutritional facts were made mandatory in 1992, country of origin listing became mandatory in 2002 and fat content listing became mandatory in 2006.
He said a Hiller’s grocer in Commerce is the first store he’s seen in the U.S. to take up the GMO labeling effort without state or federal legislation.
Schafer said 50 countries either have bans or labeling requirements on GMOs in place, but the U.S. does not, despite being the largest producer. However, he said 20-21 states have proposed legislation in the past two months, but not in Michigan.
Politics is an arena large companies are tied into, but the GMO awareness movement is not. However, for those looking to avoid GMOs, that’s the whole point of organic foods.
“By law, organics cannot include genetically modified organisms,” Schafer said. “The reason they have to pay a little bit more is they have to prove they don’t use GMOs. Organics is the way to go. It’s valid.”
Organic food is a highlight of the Royal Oak Farmers Market, which hosts farmers and specialty food vendors at 316 E. 11 Mile from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Fridays in the winter and 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays year round. The Friday hours are 7 a.m.-1 p.m. in the summer.
“I think a lot of people come in and only want certified organic, but that costs thousands of dollars,” Mazur said, noting that many of the farmers market vendors are organic; they just haven’t paid the fee to be certified as such. “A lot of my farmers have been farming 15-20 years and that wasn’t even a part of it.”
For more information on GMOs, visit www.nogmo4michigan .org or contact Schafer at nogmo4 firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the Royal Oak Farmers Market, visit www.ci.royal-oak.mi. us and click on the farmers market link.