Organization aims to educate consumers on GMOs

CeNique Yeldell

The organization No GMO 4 Michigan aims to give the power of choice back to consumers by providing them with information about what is actually in the food they’re buying.

Tanya Hawley, vice president of the group and a Grand Valley State University alumnus, co-founded the organization in 2013 with President Diane Lalomia. The organization focuses on educating consumers on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The term “GMO” refers to a living organism whose genes have been changed by inserting a gene from an unrelated species. In crops, the procedure generally uses genes that enhance resistance to insecticides, herbicides or pesticides.

As vice president, Hawley plans all of the events in Grand Rapids, trains new chapter leaders in different areas of the state, and helps come up with presentations.Hawley said that her children are what helped her become more aware of what they were eating and she began to learn more about the food system in the U.S.

“After knowing that there were other mothers out there feeding their kids GMOs, I wanted to start the nonprofit. I just thought, ‘how many other mothers don’t know?’” Hawley said.

So far in the U.S., Connecticut and Maine are the only states that have passed labeling laws. Places such as Europe, Australia, Brazil, Japan and India have all required that GMOs are labeled.

Ryan Kelley found out about the organization at a Living Well show and became the educational speaker for the group. He has spoken to businesses, schools and doctors about GMOs and the other food options that are available.

Kelley said he believes it’s important that people are educated about GMOs because they affect our long-term and short-term health. He also said people have the right to know what they’re eating, to be able to make the appropriate changes and decide what they eat.

Deborah Lown, assistant professor in the department of biomedical sciences at Grand Valley, said she recently attended a conference at the University of Michigan, which indicated that presently there are no long-term studies conducted on humans to determine the potential side-effects of GMOs.

“Organic foods are not necessarily more nutritious than the standardly-grown foods; however, there are less pesticides in these foods,” Lown said. “I specifically purchase organically grown fruits and vegetables—strawberries, raspberries, apples, broccoli et cetera, as I have had a family member recently diagnosed with cancer and I wish to decrease their exposure to pesticides—despite the higher cost.”

Lown said she recommends that students try to avoid highly processed foods, which are the major source of GMOs in our food supply.

The group offers four tips to avoid GMOs, which include buying food that has the USDA organic label, to look for non-GMO labels such as the “non-GMO project verified”, to avoid at-risk ingredients and to use shopping guides.

There are local stores in Grand Rapids that offer organic food like Nourish Organic Market and Harvest Health foods, and grocery chains like Meijer offer a line of organic products. Local harvest is a website that locates the nearest places in Grand Rapids that offer sustainably-grown and organic foods.

For anyone on a budget, Hawley said that there is also a website called Door-to-Door Organics, which delivers food for $35. The organization expresses a hope that sustainably-grown and organic foods will become more widely available in the future.

“The market will change by demand, and it is changing,” Jamie Heeringa, a group leader of the organization, said. “We have to be willing to vote with our grocery dollar. No one says it’s easy but it’s a matter of where our priorities are.”

Heeringa said she feels it’s her obligation to try and make a change, so she spreads the word whenever she has the opportunity. She said that GMOs have an impact not only on consumers but farmers, the planet and future generations.

For those looking to get involved, No GMO for Michigan offers many volunteer opportunities, membership and internships. Hawley said that they need help with administrative tasks, event planning, marketing and organizing outreach events. She also said they could use more educational speakers for anyone who wants to develop their speaking skills.

“Eventually down the road when we feel like we have enough educated Michigan citizens the goal is to change into a 501 © 4 and at that point in time work towards a state effort towards a GMO labeling,” Hawley said.

For more information, No GMO for Michigan has a Facebook page and a website with resources for self-education, detailed information about GMOs and current news.