GMO-a-No-Go: Part 1 – What is a GMO and Why Care?


GMO OMG. It’s everywhere nowadays. …. but what’s a GMO? Why should you care?

You may think that “organic” stuff is another gimmick for the “Whole Paycheck” crowd. But there is a lot more to this movement than meets the dismissive eye. It’s lies, cover-ups and manipulation. It’s your life span and your rising insurance deductibles and the future of the food supply of the planet you live on. It’s the cutting edge of Science. It’s David versus Goliath: Money versus Health.

Intrigued? Read on.

I recently listed to a podcast host wistfully pine, “I dream of a world without GMOs.” Sadly, that world was as recent as the Clinton White House, but GMOs have become so ubiquitous in our food that it’s hard to imagine life without them. 

You are eating GMOs. Americans live in a world where the majority of food sold is made with GMOs, and the majority of consumers don’t even know this. The top GE foods are corn, soy, sugar beets, and canola. Try to find something in your local grocery without them. You’re likely ingesting GMOs indirectly as well, through the beef you had for Memorial day that had munched on GMO soy, or through the milk you drink from cows injected with bovine growth hormone.

So what are all the court battles, activists on the streets, and cries for labeling or outright bans all about? There is no way to contain this beast of a topic in one post, so I’ll be posting a primer in serial form. Here’s a rough sketch you can look forward to:

  • Part 1 – What is a GMO and Why Care?
  • Part 2 – Scientific Studies – thinking critically, their relevance and trustworthiness.
  • Part 3 – Who are the people and companies involved?
  • Part 4 – Are there benefits to GMOs? Why do we plant them, why do we buy them?
  • Part 5 – GMOs in the courts and patenting life
  • Part 6 – Labeling Initiatives.

It’s a work in progress. I welcome your comments, questions and constructive criticism! Now let’s get to it:

What is Genetically Modified Food? GM-Fish-Strawberry

Basically, it’s food that would never ever happen outside of a laboratory. If a Salmon and a Strawberry had a one-night-stand after a few too many they wouldn’t have to worry about a little strawberryfish surprise. Another important fundamental about frankenfoods is modification happens instantaneously instead of over generations or aeons of breeding.

But let’s back up a moment and get the lingo down: GMO = GM = GE. An “O”rganism (plant or animal) is “G”enetically “M”odified or “E”ngineered. You may see the term “transgenic” in more scientific publications. The terms are interchangeable. Organic and GMO, however, are not interchangeable…Organics do not contain GMOs* but Non-GMO food does not have to be organic (think pesticide use). We won’t even get into the “Natural” advertisement on packaging-you can read up at Grist. You may as well eat products “Made with Real Cheese.”


Really, just go to your local farmer’s market and talk to the farmer.

But wait, you say, isn’t everything genetically engineered? We all learned about that dang monk with his pea plants in high school bio, right? Surely food has been bred for thousands of years to have the best qualities of flavor, disease resistance, and growth resilience.

Stick ’em up, Plant.

We’ve come a long way from the meticulous selective breeding of Mendel and generations of farmers. GM food is Frankenstein’s monster on the level of DNA. Selected parts of organisms that were never meant to go together naturally are forced together in a laboratory creation. This occurs at gunpoint. No joke. Most plant GMOs are created with a technique called “particle bombardment,” which means the target organism, say a corn plant, is shot with a .22 caliber “gene gun”. The picture to the left is not a parody; it’s a depiction of the process from a scientific laboratory.

Evolution happens over time, engaging natural processes like sex and cross pollination.  Natural organisms adapt to changes over time–it’s how species survive. But engineering happens instantly. Then, instead of an organism adapting to its environment the natural state of things is flipped on its head and the environment adapts to the organism. Genetically engineered organisms rocket past evolution and exhibit unexpected side effects…even if those effects aren’t understood for generations. cheshire cat on head

Why Do People Care?

I’ll give you two reasons: Health and Money.


People care because they want to know what they’re putting in their bodies and what effect it will have. People care because they don’t want to be guinea pigs. They care because they believe the governmental agencies and actors that are in place to protect their interests in this respect have failed them by not properly regulating or testing these scientific creations. They care because diseases and disorders are skyrocketing over the last couple of decades… Remember how I mentioned the Clinton White House? The first GMO food hit the market about 20 years ago…coincidence? Perhaps, but people want answers, and that’s reasonable. The smarty-pants among you realize that correlation does not equal causation…but you also realize that correlation can be a flag worth checking out, right?

People care is because they’re eating it. Many people don’t know what GMOs are, and conservative estimates say 75% of processed food (read: it comes from a can or box) contains GMO ingredients. I’d bet even the majority of those that try to avoid GMOs have had that moment when they realize, well shoot I missed that one! (Like learning that the Whole Foods “organic” food sourced from China can still contain GMOs, or that PLUs don’t actually have an organic code number).

I will delve into this scientific debate in the next Part of this GMO-a-No-Go Series, so sit tight. But for the time being, riddle me this: how can a substance be so commonplace and similar to already existing substances that it merits no specific testing or labeling, yet so novel and original that it merits financial protection by the US Government?


Author Gary Hirshberg illustrates an interesting contradiction. The US Patent Office sees genetically engineered foods as significantly different from anything in nature enough to grant patents to seed chemical companies for their creation. A patent is given out when a person or company creates something that is a product of their own vision that has never existed before. As a country we recognize and encourage creativity by granting that imaginative and productive individual or company exclusive rights to sell that invention for a certain period of time. In other words, novelty generates money to encourage innovation.

However, a separate agency under the federal umbrella, the FDA, treats these inventions as if there is no substantial difference between the engineered seed and the food we’ve been eating since the dawn of time. What? How could two federal agencies take such diametrically opposing views? This alone raises some eyebrows, and some flags for consumers.

We’ll delve into the money issues a bit later in the series, but suffice it to say, GMOs are big business.


There’s something for everyone in the debate about GMOs–whether you’re interested in the ability to play God in a laboratory, or want to feed the world, or sympathize with the 99%, or wonder why rates of autism and asthma and obesity are on the rise, or revel in government corruption…it’s here.

Stay tuned, and stay healthy.

Sources and More Information

Seeds of Deception, Jeffrey M. Smith

*Even “Organic” food, as certified by the USDA is not necessarily 100% non-GMO. For example, the label doesn’t prohibit indirect GMO introduction such as regulating feed of cattle which has been found to affect the composition of beef itself.

That’s My Placenta! A Survey of Ownership and Activities


If something is removed from your body, who owns it? The question may gross you out, but it has a serious side. Take for example, the human placenta. A little bio-class refresher: it’s an organ grown by a woman during pregnancy to attach the fetus to her uterus via the umbilical cord. It transfers oxygen, nutrients and hormones to the baby, and removes waste. (So get that-momma’s already feeding and picking up after you even before you’re born! That’s love ladies and gentlemen.)

If a woman gives birth in a hospital, as a majority of women do in the U.S., you’ll likely never see this amazing organ. Many may thank their lucky stars but a growing number are grabbing for a doggie bag–literally and figuratively. There is a growing contingent of families that want to keep the placenta for personal use. Hospitals and governments have policies that run the spectrum from allowing momma access immediately without question, protected by law, to a waiting period or injection of a preservative, or a blanket refusal. However, a lack of uniform policy combined with social stigma creates situations that can be simultaneously comical, sad, devious or hazardous. When faced with an official policy of refusal, some women call a funeral director to have the placenta released then returned to them via straw man. Some find a sympathetic hospital staffer to drop it in a designated biohazard bin then look the other way when the bag disappears. A few are lucky enough to be able to take it home in a cooler with permission. Some need a court order to get their body part released.

Why Want it and Why Would that Be a Problem?

There are a variety of reasons a person would want to keep their placenta, but  I can summarize three main: spiritual practice, placentophagy, and memorabilia. For  many, keeping the placenta has spiritual implications–some cultures believe the soul is attached, or individuals may want to perform their own memorial or ritual by, for example, burying it near a tree so that the tree grows as the child does. There is a beautiful and fascinating book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, that describes the intersection of Hmong culture with western medicine, in which the placenta burial ceremony is depicted. Other people choose to ingest their placenta, either raw, cooked or encapsulated. There’s plenty of googling to be done on this one if you’re interested but I’ll leave that to you and focus instead here on logistics and law. Suffice it to say that many strongly believe in this practice (including yours truly) and believe it can provide healing nutrients, prevent or slow postpartum hemorrhaging  and alleviate baby-blues. Finally, some use the placenta to create art as a way to honor the woman’s body or memorialize a birth. Again, google away if you so choose.

So what’s the problem? Why would Hospital refuse to allow a mother to take home her own organ? Again, no single answer. Hospitals may cite risk of disease due to releasing human tissue full of blood. There could be prejudice to hurdle–utilizing a placenta in private circumstances is not the norm in American culture. There could be a profit incentive for the hospital–placenta is increasingly being used in beauty products for such things as anti-wrinkle creams and shampoos. More altruistically, but also with funding in mind, the placenta is a source of stem cells for medical research.

So Who Owns It? Momma or the Hospital?

I’m going to give you the classic lawyer response on this: “It Depends.” It depends on whether the state you live in has laws that directly address this, or what indirect laws the hospital and department of health choose to apply. It depends on what the placenta is called, or how it’s classified. You can find a survey of law and legal issues here and here.

In 2007 the placenta ownership question made its way to a Nevada courts in Swanson v. Sunrise Hospital. In short, Mom wanted to take her placenta and the hospital refused. Ultimately, the court ordered the hospital to release it (though too late to encapsulate so it was buried instead). But that’s just one case in Las Vegas, Nevada. It probably doesn’t apply to your situation. Precedential persuasion only goes so far, and less so the more “icky” or stigmatized the subject matter.

Hospitals have a tightrope to walk when releasing placentas–honor patient rights and wishes, while protecting themselves from liability. The sympathy a hospital has for momma’s rights will vary state to state, county to county, even hospital to hospital. Further, the official policy of a hospital may not accurately reflect the unofficial practices of staff.

And what’s in a name? The way the placenta is classified can have a bearing on it’s disposition–what a staffer will do once they have it in their hands and who then has access to it. It can be trashed as medical waste, frozen as human tissue, or considered human remains to be picked up by a coroner. With each of these classifications, different laws apply. Compare to other things that are removed from a body: stuff like swallowed change or diamond rings and likely handed over, kidney stones or lukemia cells that will likely be discarded, sperm and ova and organs that can be donated, cord blood that can be banked. You can see the power of a label.

So What If You Want To Keep Your Placenta?

The best bet for keeping your placenta is to give birth outside of a hospital, if it is a safe option for you (consult medical professionals–I am not one). However, if you plan on a hospital birth and want to keep your organ, do your homework:

  • Don’t be shy. Talk to your doctor about his or her thoughts, feelings, and policies. Have they ever heard of this? (Surprising how many have not). Have they ever allowed this before?
  • Call the hospital ahead of time to find out their policies and alert them that you want to keep your placenta. Ask to have it put in your medical chart.
  • Is there anything written down that guides the situation? Find out if there are any local laws, regulations or guidance.–state, regulations, hospital policy. This way, you can find a different hospital if need be. All of these things can be legally challenged, with varying degrees of difficulty. Don’t be surprised if there is nothing.
  • You may need to sign a release. Ask the hospital if they have one or if they require one. They’ll likely have to consult with their legal team. You can hire an attorney to write one and guide you through this process.
  • Likely you’ll be asked why you want your placenta. You don’t have to answer, but it may help the process along. If you’re going to answer, be prepared. Some people are upset by the question, thinking, “It’s mine, why do I have to justify my reasons?” If that’s your position, more power to you, but be prepared to perhaps meet some resistance. Some hospitals may not release your placenta without knowing why (that there is a legit use), because they’re thinking about their own liability or even ethics.
  • Be prepared: If the Hospital will let you take it–how is that going to happen? Are you okay with it being frozen or do you need it raw? Is your cooler ready with your hospital to-go bags? Does this need to be released to someone else as a straw man? Have that person in place. Don’t let it get to the point of needing an emergency court order, where you risk the viability of the placenta.
  • Consult an attorney to help you through the process 🙂

In Conclusion

Although you may feel strongly that something that comes from your own body belongs to you (and I agree with you), there are public health concerns and social stigma that you are fighting against. This may not be fair or proper, but it is the way it is right now. The best I can say to you is to be prepared to protect your rights. I hope that you are in a friendly environment, but you may not be.


The Atlantic: Why Some Mothers Choose to Eat Their Placentas; March 22, 2013.

Placenta Benefits website Placenta Magic

War on Drugs or War on Cognitive Liberty?

An interesting TEDx discussion of the use of mind altering substances, including ayahuasca and marijuana, and the relative stigma associated with these drugs in our culture, as opposed to the glorified stimulants and depressants such as caffeine and alcohol. It’s interesting to ponder why it is that drugs such as LSD, ayahuasca, MDMA, and marijuana, which have successfully been used therapeutically or for treatment of such problems as PTSD and addictions, are villainized in our culture. On the flip side, we have substances that numb us to reality and our selves and are highly addictive, and quickly create chronic health problems, yet are celebrated. Heck, some people even group standards of the American diet such as meat, refined carbohydrates and alternative sweeteners and stimulants (like energy drinks) into the latter group of substances that repress the individual’s physical, mental and spiritual health. Let your mind play:

Small Farms Find Affordable Care Act Not So Affordable

“Obamacare,” as it is affectionately called, has been slowly creeping into our lives. While this legislative maneuver was pragmatic–such  sweeping reform could not be implemented overnight–the incremental adoption perhaps bears the imperceptible perk of stealth. While many are dreaming of a world where Americans have access to desperately needed health care, this massive piece of legislation is integrating itself into the fabric of our country in ways that cannot be easily undone, and will slowly reveal itself to add more gunk to the gears.

Easily, the most controversial aspect of Obamacare is the “Mandate.” What is mandated, however, is not simply for the individual, but also for businesses. Businesses with fifty or more employees are required to provide a health care plan for their employees, or pay a fine ($2000 per employee), just as individuals are required to purchase insurance or pay a fine.

The impact on small businesses, especially those that hire seasonal help, such as farms, is enormous.


 “A lot of farmers may think they are immune from the law, but this is the biggest change to health care since the creation of Medicare or Medicaid almost 50 years ago,” said Matt Coffindaffer, regulatory affairs manager for the National Council of Agricultural Employers. The Federal Register notices on the law have run about 14,000 pages and three federal agencies — Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor and the Treasury Department — are responsible for implementing 550 separate provisions in the law.

The devil is in the details, as they say, and these details (a.k.a. regulations) are still being worked out. You can read more about farmer’s fears here.

Keep it Raw and Keep it Real

I do not believe in any policy that rests on the idea that a risk of potential harm is a reason to discourage, disparage, or do away with personal freedoms and choices.

Food for thought: Ever wonder why the same companies making candy bars, canned food, lotions, and liquid detergents are also in the pet food business? Because it’s a profitable way to deal with byproducts unfit for human consumption or use. Nothing wrong with that, right? Waste not, want not. Pet food regulation falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA, but there is no pre-market monitoring, only a general requirement the food be “safe,” and ingredients have “an appropriate function.” Sadly, unsanitary industry practices are known to frequently contaminate the food, with salmonella,  toxic mold, or choking hazards. Further, some ingredients including ash, carbohydrates and GMOs, while meeting the FDA’s standards, have been found to be associated with health problems in animals. For these and other reasons, a growing number of pet owners are turning to a raw diet for their furry friends.

The opening quote is a portion of the comment I attached to a petition signature expressing my disagreement with an upcoming vote by the American Veterinary Medical Association to adopt an official position against raw diets. If you’re interested in the issue, here’s some info directly from the horse’s mouth, and from opponents. It is not my intent with this post to convert you to a raw diet fanatic. Nor do I unrealistically think a majority of pet owners will shun commercial pet food in favor of grinding and serving raw meat in their homes. It’s true the AVMA has no authority to police their preferences, however, they do play a part in a web of influence that could challenge the exercise of freedom of choice of pet owners. Herein lies the intrigue because of its subtle way of attacking individual freedom.

And so we get to the meat of it–Freedom of choice. Sure, you’ll probably never see an FDA regulation, “Thou Shalt Feed Kibble,” but statutes and codes are not the only way to skinny a cat. If the field of “acceptable” choices are narrowed, and vets are discouraged even more than they are now at a professional level to shun options other than commercial food, that’s detrimental to a pet owner’s freedom of choice and ultimately bad for public and pet health.

This is a shrinking freedom issue. It’s Newspeak or “Sameness.” It is an official endorsement of decreased access to information with the effect of shrinking choices to the point of null. Sure, choices can still be made, but without access to reliable information about what the choices are, accompanied by a campaign against all but one option, there is less likelihood people will (a) know there’s a choice, (b) know how to exercise their freedom of choice in an educated way, and (c) feel confident enough to make the choice in the face of “official” and societal disagreement.  It leads to an artificial consensus, self-perpetuated and thus very powerful, and creates the very monster it claims to try to slay (in this case, public health concerns). This situation is antithetical to Freedom.

To illustrate, one could think of this as akin to the vaccine debate. Due to polarized policies and beliefs it is impossible to throw a stone pro or con without hitting a fanatic when trying to educate oneself on this  issue. The problem is exacerbated when trained professionals marginalize the issue when asked about it by patients, clients or the media, due likely to biased education and official policies of their trusted institutions. Currently, many doctors refuse to treat children who are not vaccinated on the recommended schedule, schools send misleading letters to parents saying their children must be vaccinated to attend, there have been increasing reports of parents being reported to child protective services based on their decisions not to vaccinate.  It is to the point where one hesitates to even ask questions for fear of being labeled an unfit parent or a lunatic. All of this, regardless of the fact that no state requires vaccination without exception (in other words, parents have the right to choose whether to vaccinate), and the federally endorsed “Recommended Immunization Schedule for Children” is just that–a recommendation, not a requirement of the law.

And so, while the AVMA policy, if adopted, will not have teeth of its own, it does not mean the organization does not have real influence over those that do have the ability to bite, or to feed you a line you’re expected to swallow with no questions asked.

Eternal vigilance, Friends.


Why Horny Cows Make the Best Milk–Ruminations on Austrian Philosophy

“This cheese is made by a farmer in Holland who doesn’t dehorn his cows; it’s amazing.”

Standing by the “cheese cave” of a small market in Philadelphia, surrounded by an ocean of delicious dairies, I wonder, Why would anyone dehorn cows? Double take–Wait, dairy cows have horns?

So I’ve lived decades of my life without knowing that dairy cows naturally have horns, and perhaps you have as well. Both sexes of almost all breeds of cattle have the ability to grow horns, but modern farmers generally search for ways to get rid of them. There are a number of reasons, which all boil down to being able to get more bang for your bull (or cow). Dehorned cattle show less aggression and take up less space. Therefore, safety of the farmer and other cattle are cited, as well as reduction in bruised unsellable meat and risk of injury to the cow through a damaged horn. Smaller space requirements allow for more confined cattle, and maximizing profits.

Some breeds have been “polled,” or bread to eliminate the expression of the recessive horn gene. But this is apparently a challenge in the dairy cow field (pun intended) and so dehorning is standard and supported by industry cattle farmers, to the point of government “horn taxes” for sales of cattle with intact horns.

Cows are born with specialized cells on their heads, which will grow into horns. After birth the cells begin to grow and are referred to as “buds.” Around the second month the base of the bud becomes attached to the frontal bone of the skull, under which is the sinus cavity. As the horn grows, it fuses with the frontal sinus and a pathway is created.

You may want to skip this paragraph on the hows of dehorning cows if you have a sensitive stomach (or four). Dehorning occurs after the cows birth by any of three methods—polling, which is selective breeding to eliminate horn growth; disbudding by chemicals, hot iron, or surgical removal via sharpened tube or spoon; or dehorning by sawing off the horn and producing tissue after growth begins. Needless to say, anesthesia is not often used, despite the knowledge that horns have sensation through the Cornual nerve. I will note that the American Vetrenary Medical Association, along with well known livestock expert Dr. Temple Grandin support dehorning.

So other than the obvious animal welfare concerns (which other groups have done a great job of exploring) why do we care whether cows keep their horns?

Because dairy from cows with horns is different than dairy from cows without horns.

People who are lactose intolerant report being able to consume milk or cheese from cows with horns. Research studies have backed up this anecdotal evidence, and if that doesn’t convince you, how about the free market evidence that companies are cashing in by specializing in these products in order to tap the lactose intolerant market?

There are also people who believe that the dairy is of a better quality, though there is less hard scientific data to back this up. (Look for a post on my take on the quality and reliability of hard scientific data to back anything up, coming soon!) But think about it logically—The horn is connected to the sinus cavity. The sinus cavity plays a role in the digestion and thus metabolism of the cow. Does it make sense that the health of the cow will affect the quality of its fluids?

When the cow chews cud, digestive gasses penetrate the core of the horns via sinuses. The pattern of growth of horns can tell a farmer about the health of the animal, and whether its feed is difficult to digest. Old Farmer’s tales taught that bulls with horns produced more sperm, and that the silica in horns attracts more light energy that would transfer ultimately to the milk.

And here’s where it gets even more interesting.

There is a growing movement among farmers to hold on to the horns, despite industry and government opposition. It’s based on a series of lectures given by Austrian philosopher and scientist, and some would say “mystic” Rudolf Steiner in 1924, which he was cajoled into giving in the year before his death. Though Steiner was not a farmer, he elucidated a foundation for an integrated organic farming technique that is still in use today, and is gaining in popularity in recent years. In his first lecture, he summed up the basis for the philosophy of Anthroposophy (today known as Demeter Farming or Biodynamics), “From one aspect or another, all interests of human life belong to agriculture.” The lectures describe an integrated farming philosophy and technique which includes a holistic and sustainable view of the process. Those who have taken up the torch sometimes also categorize this as a spiritual practice. Not surprisingly, there are many critics who dismiss biodynamic farming as a hoax. More on this in future posts!

Who knew one cheese sale would propel me into Austrian philosophy? The cheese, by the way, a Remeker, was absolutely delicious.