Many in the outdoor world were occupying their brain cells and screen time with National Park shutdowns and Front Range flood cleanup during the month of October. But our ilk may also be interested to know October was also National Non-GMO Month, created in 2010 by the non-profit consumer advocacy group Non-GMO Project as a platform for raising awareness about GMOs in our food system.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) quietly dominate the U.S. food supply. Since widespread introduction into industrial farming practices in 1996, the meteoric rise in bio-engineered crops has risen to comprise 90-plus percent of our national food system in less than two decades.
GMO refers to the direct laboratory altering of an organism’s genome. This may involve mutating, deleting or adding genetic material. GMO giant Mansanto’s popular BT Corn is the laboratory love child of Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil dwelling bacteria that kills caterpillars, and common corn. Consequently, BT Corn secretes its own pesticide to keep off hungry bugs.
The debate being played out through state referendums right now is not about whether or not GMO food is safe, but about labeling. Should food manufacturers have to tell you that you’re eating BT Corn? So far labeling requirements have failed in every single state referendum with the exception of Connecticut and Maine (whose laws won’t go into effect unless all neighboring New England states pass similar legislation). However, this may change soon, if Washington State succeeds in approving Initiative 522 — a measure to require producers to label foods made with genetically modified ingredients on November 5, 2013.
National polls suggest the public’s desire to mandate GMO transparency on grocery shelves is much less divisive than we’re led to believe. One poll conducted this past summer found that 93 percent of Americans think the federal government should require labels on food saying whether it’s been genetically modified, or “bio-engineered.”
As outdoor enthusiasts we’ve always demanded more from our favorite outdoor brands — we want them to take leadership positions in sustainability, fair trade and in preserving the wild landscapes we love; and supporting non-GMO agriculture is a part of this ethos. Fortunately, there are companies embracing the non-GMO movement, paying out-of-pocket for themselves to be rigorously audited and subsequently awarded the Non-GMO Project Verified stamp-of-approval. For example, ProBar, an independently owned natural sports nutrition company based in Salt Lake City, Utah, has elected voluntarily to go 100-percent non-GMO with the entire brand.
In the meantime, until GMO labeling becomes a federal mandate or it eventually finds its way onto the ballot in Colorado, it’s up to individuals to support brands that volunteer themselves as non-GMO compliant companies. Currently, the only national standard that exists is led by the Non-GMO Project. So next time you’re looking to grab snack for a long trail run or hike, or preparing food for a multi-day river trip or backpacking adventure, take a moment to think about what you’re buying into.