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The Grocers’ Manufacturers’ Association (GMA), a trade group representing, among others, Monsanto, General Mills and Cargill, is planning to sue Vermont because they passed a law that would require these companies to label products that are genetically modified.  The base of their lawsuit is that states shouldn’t be allowed to make such laws, that any mandate must come from the federal government, an entity Big Ag has in its pocket.

Big Ag continues their constant rant that GMO foods are perfectly safe, rolling out the patently false arguments that GMO crops consume less water and pesticides than conventional crops.  Big Ag, however, concerned exclusively with profit, is now, in order to protect their bottom line, slowly introducing  GMO-free products.  Cargill recently announced that they will offer a non-GMO soybean oil, which will then join corn and beans as two other non-GMO products.  Ethan Theis, food ingredients commercial manager for Cargill, released a statement explaining this seemingly contradictory behavior.  “Despite the many merits of biotechnology, consumer interest in food and beverage products made from non-GMO ingredients is growing, creating opportunities and challenges for food manufacturers and food service operators.”  Consumer demand, in other words, is driving Cargill’s decision.

General Mills recently reconfigured Cheerios to make it non-GMO, and Post Foods is investigating how to alter Grape-Nuts cereal to become non-GMO.  “A lot of food manufacturers are looking at switching over to non-GMO.  The demand is there,” says Aaron Skyberg, director of SK Food International, a North Dakota-based bulk ingredients supplier to U.S. and foreign food companies.  Many of these companies are even seeking to enroll in a third-party verification program, the Non-GMO Project.  And business is booming.  According to the Non-GMO Project Executive Director, Megan Westgate, “the number of non-GMO ‘verified’ products surged to 14,800 in 2013, up from 4,000 in 2011, and 1,000 more products are in the verification pipeline.  We get about 80 new companies enrollment inquiries every week.  People want non-GMO.”  The push to create non-GMO products at this point is a difficult endeavor, but public demand is such that investors are beginning to pay attention.  The San Francisco company Equilibrium Capital Group is interested in developing infrastructure in grain storage, transportation and converting farmland to non-GMO crop production.

Other participants in the supply chain, such as the Illinois company, Clarkson Grain, believe that the trend back to growing conventional crops is soaring.  Lynn Clarkson, the company president, says, “we are able to find farmers to grow non-GMO, and we’ve been able to do that consistently.”  She adds, too, that “we are seeing a significant increase in demand for non-GMO this year.”

All of this is driven by consumer demand.  Debbra DeMarco, vice president of Top Health Ingredients, says that any decision by Big Ag to offer up more non-GMO products is the result of their occupation with the bottom line and not by opposition to GMOs.  She states simply that “the only thing that will drive change to non-GMO is profit and public pressure.”  A New York Times poll taken in 2013 found that 93% of Americans favor labeling genetically altered foods.  An MSNBC poll, the results of which were published in 2011, found that 96% of Americans desire labeling.  Reuters/NPR, 95%.  Washington Post 2010, 95%.  It’s clear by their new attention to the development of non-GMO products that Big Ag is indeed paying attention to its customers.

Incremental change can be frustratingly slow, but can also in this case lead to societal benefits.  The “invisible hand of the market,” a phrase coined by Adam Smith, applies directly to Big Ag adopting decisions that it’s loath to concede.  That public demand can cause these companies to self-regulate in order to make a profit may work to benefit us all.

Recipe of the Week

I make one pie a year, and it’s my favorite.  Pie recipes are easy to come by, but the crust, although simple enough, is the key to making a really good pie.  My mother taught me the basics, and they work every time.

Blackberry Pie

5 cups blackberries.  They’re everywhere.  Pick them yourself or at least buy them at a Farmer’s Market.

1.5 tbls. fresh lemon juice

2/3 cup organic white sugar

1/4 cup organic white flour

Combine above ingredients and allow to sit for 15 minutes.

Pie Crust

2 1/2 cups of organic white flour

2/3 cup chilled butter plus 3 tbls.

6 to 8 tbls. ice chilled water.

Cut the butter into the flour and mix with your fingers until a cornmeal consistency emerges.  Using a fork to stir, one by one add the tablespoons of iced water, stirring briefly.  If, when you are done, the flour mixture doesn’t quite hold together, add a little more iced water.  The key to a good crust lies in this next phase.  Gather the dough into a ball, without handling it too much.  Cut the dough ball in half.  Sprinkle flour onto a cutting board and gently roll out to fit the size of your pie pan.  Fold the dough gently in half and place it in the pie pan.  Cut any excess dough off around the edges.  Repeat with the second ball of dough.  When it’s rolled, place the berry mixture in the pie pan and top with one or two tablespoons of butter, then top with the second ball of dough, crimping the edges again.  Prick the pie crust all over with a fork.  You can, at this point, sprinkle the top with sugar and/or coat with an egg white wash.  The oven should be heated to 450 degrees.  A safe thing to do is to place a baking pan under the pie as it cooks to collect any drippings.  After 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees and cook until bubbly and golden brown, about 35 to 40 more minutes.

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