Tag Archives: gmo

Five Reasons for Choosing Organic (And One Thing I Don’t Like About Organics)

I started writing about organic eating in 2011 and since that time, this blog has grown to incorporate green, natural living and eco-travel.  In the intervening 7 years, organic food has become much more prevalent, with more people choosing to buy organic on a regular basis.  Which is great, but sometimes when a movement becomes widespread, it becomes a bit like white noise.  We forget WHY we initially made the choice to switch to organic and our intentions become less resolute.  And some folks probably never really knew why they started buying organic foods in the first place, other than for vague reasons about it being “healthier”.

In short, by buying organic food, personal care products, home products and clothing, you are making a decision to consciously support sustainable agricultural land use (as well as a positive impact on the natural lands which surround it – for the wild birds, bees, flora and fauna), improved animal husbandry welfare (including no routine use of antibiotics which is important as we sit on the cusp of the post-antibiotic era), no use of artificial colours or preservatives which is better for your body and you’re also buying products made from natural materials which will more easily break down into compost at the end of their useful life, rather than spending the next 500 years in landfill.  So many great reasons to make this conscientious decision to buy organic as often as you are able.

What first inspired me to create this blog was my desire and passion to share with others why I choose to buy organic food, clothing and home items as often as I can. And I haven’t done that in a while, so I thought I’d remind my readers (and myself!) my main evidence-based reasons for choosing – and continuing – to buy organic.

Learn More – GO! Organic Festival (8-9 September 2018)

If you live in the UK and you’d like to explore more about organic living, my first suggestion is that join me at the Battersea Park on 8-9 September 2018 and celebrate everything organic at the GO! Organic Festival.  They’ve very kindly partnered with me to sponsor this article and to offer you the opportunity to win a free pair of tickets (see below). I’ll be there, so let me know in the comments below if you’re coming too! Buy your tickets HERE.

unnamed-5
There will be loads of organic food and drink (including beers & wines), celebrity chefs, pop up vendors and a marketplace with lots of my favourite organic companies including skincare companies, clothing and homewares.  (One of my favs, Greenfibres will be there too, you can check out my review of their pillows HERE.) There’s also a MainStage with a great line up of music.

unnamed

Oh, and if you have kids, can I just say that Andy (yes, CBeebies Andy, THAT Andy) and Mr Bloom will be there too!  There will also be facepainting, etc. In other words, it’s a very family friendly day out.

You can win a free pair of tickets by entering our Rafflecopter giveaway HERE.
In the meanwhile, start supporting your local farmers markets and natural foods shops, and when you do buy a packaged product, learn to read the label. You don’t need to change everything in a day, but the more you learn about why some people choose to buy organic foods, clothing and personal care products.  If you’re a bit skeptical about  why its important to buy organic and would like to learn more about why I “became organic”, then I invite you to keep on reading…

Why Did I Choose Organic?

I sometimes hear really intelligent people say that buying organic isn’t necessary because it’s just a marketing ploy to charge more, and that makes me sad. (I hear this a lot in the vegan community, and we should really know better.) Because while these folks are partly right that there is a marketing element to the organic label certifications and branding, that’s not why I choose to buy non-sprayed,  non-GMO foods, clothing and home products.  In fact, on many occasions the organic products I’m buying aren’t labelled organic at all.  I just talk to the farmer or producer and find out what farming and production methods they’re using.  I encourage you to do the same. I like supporting local farmers wherever possible, but I also have good reasons for making sure that I’m choosing organic products (and supporting organic producers, including those who go to the effort of obtaining pricy and demanding organic certification standards).
The US National Academy of Sciences reports that 90% of the chemicals applied to the foods we eat have not been tested for their long-term health effects before being deemed as “safe.” Furthermore, the US FDA only tests 1% of foods for pesticide residue.

“The most dangerous and toxic pesticides require special testing methods, which are rarely if ever employed by the FDA.”

Here are my top 5 evidence-based reasons for living an organic lifestyle.

1. Genetically Modified Foods

I’m not afraid of the boogey man or Franken-whatever – that’s not why I don’t eat GMO foods.  The point of most widely available GMO foods – especially the big ones like corn, wheat, canola and soya – is that they are branded as “Roundup Ready” and as such, the plants are designed to be resistant to higher levels of glyphosate so that more weed-killer can be used for a higher product yield – levels of toxins which would kill a conventional plant. Glyphosate is the main ingredient of Roundup and it is an endocrine-disrupting chemical which the WHO has listed as a probable carcinogen, in particular linked to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and to which there is increasing evidence and current legal debate that it causes genetic damage.

So when you see “soya”, “soy”, “canola”, “corn”, “fructose”, “glucose fructose”, avoid buying those foods unless they are labelled as organic or non-GMO. (Foods labelled as non-GMO, GMO-free and Non-GMO Project Verified foods aren’t necessarily free from Roundup (glyphosate) and other harsh weed-killing toxins like Dicamba (also produced by Monsanto), but they will have lower levels of those poisons. I won’t lie – I do occasionally buy those types of non-GMO foods, but it’s better to buy organic as often as possible.  I tend to apply a 90/10 rule at home – 90% organic, whole foods (I prefer to eat whole foods for my own health reasons – you don’t need to do that) and 10% fun foods (my fun foods are always vegan and always GMO-free, organic where possible). It’s nearly impossible to guarantee eating GMO-free when you go out to restaurants unless you eat somewhere like Chipotle, the first national chain restaurant to cook with all non-GMO ingredients. Just do your best.

If you want to know more about practical ways to avoid GMO foods, check out Mama Natural’s blog post on how to avoid GMO’s. You can also check out my previous article on the subject.

If you don’t have the time for reading all those articles and you don’t have time to read labels at the supermarket, the easy solution is – just buy and eat organic food.  

Organic food cannot be genetically modified, so it’s an easy cheat to avoid having those toxins in your food.

2. The Health of Agricultural Workers

There are over 5.6 billion pounds of pesticides used in the agricultural industry worldwide (1 billion of that is in the US) and with woefully inadequate hazard assessments taking place, especially when chemicals are combined, each year 25 million agricultural workers experience unintentional pesticide poisoning.

(Note, I’m not even touching on how those chemicals affect the environment, animals, the bees and bird life.)

Personally, I care about the health of all those agricultural workers and their families and I don’t wish to contribute to risking their lives so I can have a cheap bag of Doritos or whatever.

annie-spratt-427331-unsplash

3. Groundwater Becomes Poisoned

The US Department of Agriculture has found that the groundwater which provides drinking water for around 50,000,000 people in the US has been contaminated by pesticides and chemicals from the agricultural industry.

“According to Cornell entomologist David Pimentel, it is estimated that only 0.1% of applied pesticides reach the target pests. The bulk of pesticides (99.%) is left to impact the environment.”

But maybe you’re not a statistics person.  Maybe you need to see an example of the kind of thing I mean, so please check out the video below showing the issues with the Costa Rica pineapple industry.

4. Because Pesticides Get EVERYWHERE

Even household dust (in addition to food and water) is now contaminated with pesticides, particularly in rural agricultural areas. Studies have found that children between 3 and 6 years of age received MOST of their dermal and non-dietary oral doses of pesticides from playing with toys and while playing on carpets which contributed the largest portion of their exposure.

That means the dust from the air settling on the toys of our kids  – on the objects we use everyday – is toxic.

That bit of dust that’s settled on Sophie the Giraffe or my daughter’s favourite blankie is toxic.

Do you find that as shocking and distressing as I do?

This means the more of us who buy and support organic, the more farmers will be able to make the viable economic decision to farm using sustainable, organic methods and this will mean gradually, fewer and fewer pesticides in the air, especially in agricultural areas where this issue is most prevalent.

kelly-sikkema-711697-unsplash

5. Increased Nutrient Values

In the past when I researched this topic, there didn’t seem to be much evidence that organic foods had much more nutritional value than conventionally grown goods, aside from increased phytonutrient content.  But more high quality studies and reviews have shown that foods grown in well-nourished soil, using organic, sustainable practices have higher levels of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

As an example, five servings of organically grown vegetables  can provide an adequate daily level of vitamin C, where the same number of servings of conventionally grown vegetables do not.

Organic produce, on average, contains:

  • 21.1% more iron
  • 27% more vitamin C
  • 29.3 more magnesium
  • 13.6% more phosphorous

deryn-macey-508307-unsplash.jpg

One Thing I Don’t Like About Organics

There is one aspect to buying organic food which does get my back up.  And its not the perceived increase in cost. When I go into the supermarket, all the organic produce seems to have extra layers of plastic. (You can watch my Real Food Organic Groceries on a Budget video here to see what I mean.)  I appreciate the supermarkets need to differentiate the conventional produce from the organic for pricing reasons, but surely they could do that with produce stickers rather than having to add so much plastic. This isn’t an issue when I can make it to the farmer’s market or when I order my organic fruit and veg box from Ocado (email me at ourlittleorganiclifeblog@gmail.com to get a voucher to save £20 off your first order) or from Abel and Cole or Riverford Organics (my downstairs neighbour uses Riverford on a weekly basis and I’m always so jealous of the gorgeous produce she gets each week).

However, the good news is that supermarkets here in the UK (where I currently live) are soon going to have to become more accountable for their plastic usage in the coming years so thankfully this should become less of an issue in future.

Resources: 

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2946087/
3.  https://www.prevention.com/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/a20453119/top-reasons-to-choose-organic-foods/
Nielson EG, Lee LK. Agricultural Economics Report Number 576.US Department of Agriculture; Washington: 1987. The magnitude and cost of groundwater contamination from agricultural chemicals: a national perspective.

Identifying populations potentially exposed to agricultural pesticides using remote sensing and a Geographic Information System.

Ward MH, Nuckols JR, Weigel SJ, Maxwell SK, Cantor KP, Miller RS
Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Jan; 108(1):5-12.
4. Biologically based pesticide dose estimates for children in an agricultural community.
Fenske RA, Kissel JC, Lu C, Kalman DA, Simcox NJ, Allen EH, Keifer MC
Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Jun; 108(6):515-20.

Organophosphate urinary metabolite levels during pregnancy and after delivery in women living in an agricultural community.

Bradman A, Eskenazi B, Barr DB, Bravo R, Castorina R, Chevrier J, Kogut K, Harnly ME, McKone TE
Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Dec; 113(12):1802-7.
5. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/107555301750164244

Photo Credits:

Farmer photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Baby photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Kale salad photo by Deryn Macey on Unsplash

Alternative Natural Sodas

The other day after coming out of the mum & baby cinema around lunchtime, I was absolutely famished, and headed into the Gourmet Burger Kitchen across the street for a veggie burger.  It was a hot day and before I knew it I had seen the chilly, frosted iconic glass bottle and had ordered myself a coke.

For me that coke was a very rare ‘treat’.  But like our American and Canadian friends, many Brits continue to drink their calories in the form of beer, wine, juice and soda.  I don’t need to shock you with the risks associated with soda consumption, which has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and obesity…because these aren’t shocking facts anymore.  They’ve been around for a long time now so its so easy to glaze over when you read them and just not take them seriously.

The high fructose corn syrup which sweetens soda comes from genetically modified corn that contains pesticides which – in only seconds – destroys your good gut flora, ruining immunity and contributing to an overall immune-compromised body that constantly struggles to find nutrients for survival and systematically loses the ability to fight off pathogens, parasites and antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

You’ll probably also know that diet sodas are just as bad, with research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showing that diet soda intake is directly related to abdominal obesity in adults over the age of 65 and the waist circumference amongst diet soda drinkers being three times that of non-diet soda drinkers.  Oh poo.  Well, there goes that plan.

Overall, surprise surprise, its just better to drink water.  The University of Bristol and Bangor University found that drinking sweet tasting drinks, regardless of their sugar content or lack thereof, dulls your sensitivity to sweet tastes in general and the sweet treat you once enjoyed becomes less of a special reward.  This establishes a vicious cycle eating sweet foods and drinks on a regular basis.

Okay, so water’s great as a daily thirst quencher, but what about on those special occasions like a BBQ or family movie night in front of the TV where you really do want a treat.  I’ve tracked down the…not ‘best’, but ‘least detrimental’ options for you which are available here in the UK:

Zevia

cola-flavorZevia do every flavour of soda you could want, from cola to grape soda to cream soda and root beer, all packaged in aluminium cans (although they do a glass bottle range now as well).  They do a tonic water for those of you who miss the occasional G&T and – get this – they even make a ‘Dr Zevia’.  Its sweetened with stevia, monk fruit and erythritol – all plant-based with no caloric value or effect on blood glucose levels – and they are Non-GMO Project Verified.

The good news is that in the US and Canada it’s available nearly everywhere.   EDIT 2018: The bad news is that here in the UK it seems to have been halfheartedly launched a couple of times, but never really took off, which is a shame.

Whole Earth

range-refreshingWhole Earth are a London-based company here in the UK which grew from a small macrobiotic restaurant back in the 60’s.  They make a range of organic sodas packaged in aluminium cans.  They make a cola as well as cranberry, lemon and elderflower sodas.  You can see their macrobiotic roots reflected in their cola which is flavoured with barley rather than the weird and wonderful botanicals you seem in some natural colas. They’re sweetened with organic agave nectar which has a lower GI than cane sugar.

Fever-Tree

2663-200ml-white-indian-tonic-low-res-rgbFever-Tree are a UK luxury botanical drinks company.  They primarily make mixers, such as tonic water, ginger beer, ginger ale and lemonade.  Their drinks are beautifully packaged in glass bottles so you do feel you are drinking something special with their products.  As a result, they have rather a lot of rewards to show for their efforts.  Their drinks are all sweetened using natural cane sugar and natural fruit sugar.

But, remember, its still sugar.  Its still going to spike your insulin levels.  Its still high GI.  It still has calories.  But its ‘real’ sugar, so it will be less damaging to your gut than the sugar you’ll find in a can of Coke.

Fentimans

fm_colaFentimans market their sodas as “botanically brewed beverages”.

But at 50 calories per 100 ml, their Curiosity Cola comes in at 8 calories per 100 ml higher than a can of Coke and it contains glucose syrup, yeast, sugar, unspecified flavourings, and a variety of e-numbers such as caramel colour (E150d) and phosphoric acid (E338).  Oh, and it is caffeinated as well.  It has been labelled by The Guardian as “The World’s Best Cola” however, so its up to you if that’s how you choose to spend your daily caloric intake.

They do a number of other flavoured sodas and cocktail mixers as well,  including a delicious Rose Lemonade (coming in at a whopping 52 calories per 100 ml).

They’re not organic and they only will confirm that their Victorian Lemonade and Ginger Beer are GMO free.  (Find out more about why you’d want to avoid GMO’s here.)  As such, I opted not to do a ‘taste test’ of their cola for this article and would NOT consider Fentimans to be a healthy alternative to conventional soda.

Roots

Because this article is about soft drinks available in the UK, we now come to Roots, a small, small, independently owned soda works in Granton, Edinburgh.  They make their soda by hand hoodoo-sodaand claim that their beverages are all natural fizzy drinks comprising of carbonated water, freshly squeezed whole fruit juice, raw cane sugar with infused flavour from herbs, spices, and petals.  Their sodas contain no artificial sweeteners, colourings, flavourings, preservatives or caffeine.

They’re not organic, but I like that they market their sodas as a special treat, only to be consumed once in a while, because “sugar is still sugar, and both fructose and sugar are *not cool* for us.”  At the moment there are only a couple of places in London carrying Roots sodas (BrewDog in Camden and Shoreditch).  I’m a mother of a 4 month old baby, so heading off the Shoreditch with the pram to taste a soda for my blog article wasn’t going to happen.  And as the company couldn’t provide me with a sample of their product for this article, I have to say I haven’t tried it yet.  I’ll update this article when I’ve done so.

Coca-Cola Life

Sigh.

1673295-slide-coca-cola-lifeOkay, I’m including this product in this article in no way because I think you should drink it.  I’m including it because some people will want to know:  “Is this a healthier alternative?”  Yes, its a healthier alternative to Coke Classic, in the way that cigars are a healthier alternative to cigarettes.

To start with, the green label is an absurdly obvious bit of greenwashing, as is the 30% of the bottle being made from unspecified plant-based resources (which I seriously suspect is GMO corn).  The product was launched in Argentina a couple of years ago and has now made its way to the UK.  (Pepsi have a similar product called Pepsi True, but as it doesn’t appear to be available in the UK, I’m not including it here.) EDIT 2018: This product was phased out of the UK market in June 2017, but it’s still available in around 30 other markets, including the US.

Coca-Cola Life contains 1/3 less sugar than regular Coke, but still contains 2/3 of whatever awful sugar it is that Coke uses in their normal soft drinks, along with a bit of stevia for “Natural Sweetness”.

And it tastes awful to boot.

 

Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) for Dummies

A lot of my friends seem to be not that bothered about GMOs.  I mean, they’ll agree they’re not good and will tsk vaguely about bees dying or something, but for the most part, they seem to confuse genetic modification with cross-breeding (i.e. modern cross-bred grains) and they don’t go to any particular lengths to make sure the food they’re buying doesn’t contain GMOs.  Mostly they’ll just look at me like I’m a lovable hippy, a luddite or I’m about to author a book on how GMOs are linked to the FBI, JFK and the moon landings or something.  But gradually people are starting to realise that concern about GMOs is not about rejecting science and the modern world and its not about conspiracy theories.  Many modern scientific discoveries have turned out to be wonderful (IVF, insulin and the mapping of the human genome and epigenome)…so it was bound that some discoveries would go equally wrong. I am not a scientist, but I thought it might be helpful to share a quick rundown on the basics of what I know about genetically modified foods and why I choose to exclude them from my family’s diet.

What are GMOs?  

Well, to start with, GMOs are Genetically Modified Organisms.  They are created in a laboratory by the artificial manipulation (gene splicing) of the genetic material of living organisms to create unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes. Sometimes they’re marketed to the public as being a ‘good thing’ for the world and the beginning of the end of world hunger because they promise drought resistant crops and increased nutritional values.  However, in reality, GMOs are both anecdotally and evidentially responsible for health problems, environmental damage and violations of the rights of both farmers and consumers.

But they’re safe, right?  I heard there were studies that proved they were safe.

Well, there have been studies conducted in the US testing the safety of GMOs…oddly enough, conducted by the same biotech corporations that originally developed the research and continue to profit from the sales of the same products. It speaks strongly that more than 60 countries around the world, including all the countries in the EU, have significantly restricted or banned the production and/or sales of GMOs.  In contrast to that, in the US, GMOs are in around 80% of conventional processed foods…but considering American foods are shipped all around the globe, that means you really have to think about the foods you’re buying. If you’re just starting out, the foods which are most likely to be genetically modified are alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soya, sugar beets and zucchini.  These are the foods which are between 88-99% GMO in the US and are therefore are easy ones to try to avoid when you’re out shopping.  Not easy when you have to remember to check for soy lecithin, a common emulsifier (think nearly every chocolate on the market), cornstarch, corn oil and high fructose corn syrup (again, its in so many processed foods) and canola and cottonseed oils (sometimes labelled very vaguely and they can be sneakily added in very small quantities into healthy foods like dried fruits which are packed with a little bit of oil).

Are you crazy?  Are you saying I can never eat corn or soya again?

You can, of course, eat what you want.  But if you choose not to consume or support genetically modified foods, just make sure that when you’re buying foods that contain the main offenders listed above, that you buy the organic versions.  Certified organic foods cannot be genetically modified.  Some US and Canadian certification labels allow for a very small margin of cross contamination these days.  For that reason, some organic food companies have chosen to boycott the organic certification labels and can no longer label their foods organic.  So if there’s a food you like and its not labelled organic – go to the producer’s website and check out their ethos or call up the company.  Very often you will find out about the company’s stance on GMOs in their FAQs and I have been surprised at some of the brands I like (Genius – in the UK – and Linda McCartney to name a couple) which are GMO free.

OK, but if these foods have been designed to be more resilient, then at least there will be less need for pesticides, right?

Again…no.  The toxicity of herbicides such as Roundup has been increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced.  The companies developing the GMOs are also the ones who are developing and selling agricultural chemicals.  I’ll leave it to you to do the math. In fact, one of the reasons that organic plants are better for you is because they are forced to be ‘tougher’ and not mollycoddled with pesticides.  Studies have consistently shown that while organic plants are not necessarily better than non-organic plants in terms of their micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), there is a significant increase in the amount of phytochemicals in organic plants.  Phytochemicals are the compounds that give vegetables and fruits their natural properties which we benefit from when we eat the plants – such as being anti-inflammatory or anti-cancer.

Why do you eat GMO-free?

Well, I hope I eat GMO free anyway.  There is always the risk of some cross-contamination in some crop which becomes an ingredient in a food I eat and glyphosates (the key ingredient of Roundup) have made their way into the water supplies of many areas.  And when you eat in restaurants, there’s no way of knowing unless they promote that they are GMO-free (like Chipotle).  But I’m pretty darn vigilant for the sake of me and my family because: 1 – I don’t want my baby girl consuming the ever-toxic pesticides which cover both these and non-GMO conventional crops. 2 – I don’t like the dirty behaviour of those who hold the patents on GMO crops.  Through the use of their vast budgets and political influence, they are allowed to sue farmers whose fields have become contaminated with GMO crops when drifting from neighbouring fields. 3 – And ultimately the long term health and environmental impact of GMOs are an unknown factor.  But if the short term impacts are anything to go by (a sharp increase of inflammatory gut conditions and autoimmune disorders of near pandemic proportions), I’ll pass on finding out the long term impacts, thank you. Maybe this will be helpful to some of you who have seen the anti-GMO bandwagon passing by and have had no clue why to jump on it.  Maybe you’re already on the bandwagon but have no clue why.  Or maybe this is all new to you.  I’ve now shared what I know…let’s just hope ‘the man’ doesn’t come and get me now! 🙂