On September 22 67 organic farmers, with a financial interest in the continued demonization of biotechnology, delivered a letter to the Dean and Trustees of Cornell University. They oppose the Alliance For Science, an evidence and fact based program that “seeks to promote access to scientific innovation as a means of enhancing food security, improving environmental sustainability and raising the quality of life globally.”
Participants from around the globe are gathered there with a common goal of using technology to improve their lives.
Too often a loud minority is able to dictate policy because the silent majority does nothing. Today 173 residents from around the state of New York show their support in their own letter to Cornell University:
September 26, 2016
Dean Kathryn J. Boor
Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Ithaca, New York 14850
Trustees of Cornell University, Robert S. Harrison, Chair
Ithaca, New York 14850
Dear Dean Boor and Trustees of the University:
As New York State residents, we applaud you for hosting the “Alliance for Science” on the Cornell campus (http://allianceforscience.cornell.edu/). A Land Grant university is the perfect place to bring together diverse international stakeholders through the generosity of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Cornell’s mission is to conduct objective research and education and the “Alliance for Science” has as its stated purpose to “help foster more constructive policies about biotechnology as a useful tool in the toolbox of food security and sustainability” and to spread it around the world. This presence should serve to fulfill Cornell’s mission.
Cornell is making valuable contributions to the long-term sustainability of agriculture.
Michelle Sadler, Lansing, NY
Kris Benson Brock Schaghticoke, NY
Aaron Fried Aaron Fried, Assistant Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Mohawk Valley Community College, Utica, NY
Levi Tooker Saranac Lake, NY
Stephanie Teeling Sodus, NY
Albert Gawer Hopewell Junction, NY
Tiffany Carson, Rochester, NY
Satadru Pramanik New York, NY, Cornell Biomedical Engineering MSE Class of 2012.
Vikki Morris Rochester, NY.
Tiffany Bemis & family Rochester, NY
Giana Jinx Giana Guarascio, Buffalo, NY
Stefan Weisserfuchs. Watertown, NY
James Nunciato Brooklyn, NY
Kathryn Evans Georgetown, NY Cornell Alumnus Class of 71
Rebecca Smith, New Paltz, NY
Ben Reed Suffern, NY
Adam Macintyre-Ross York, NY
Mike Durnin Farmingville, New York
Jordan Hahn New York, NY
Criseyda Martinez New York, NY Biological Sciences PhD candidate.
Joe Bonica Port Jefferson, NY, Class of 2012
Emily Jensen Emily Jensen Baldwinsville, NY
Gary Almeter Tonawanda, NY
Kyle Vater Buffalo, NY.
Ian Keane Modena NY
Beth Franklin Beth Franklin Collins, NY
Carrie Endriss Hortonville, NY
Kate MacIntyre-Ross York, NY
Florencia Natalia Florencia González Ithaca, NY
Charles B. Hall, PhD Professor Department of Epidemiology and Population Health
Kirk Pistner Rochester, NY
Mark Hannon Cheektowaga, NY
Alicia Meek, Syracuse, NY (And a biotechnology major!)
Alex Serbanescu Queens, New York
Matt Pappalardo Whilestone, NY
Joe Siler Sivue Farms North Java, NY
John Lavelle Cambria, NY
Mariko Dow Cheektowaga, NY
Julian Diamond Poughkeepsie, NY
Maria Lant-Amey Horseheads, NY
Alicia Ann Alicia Green, Dunkirk, NY 14048
Andrés Abea, Ithaca, NY
Tim Stolinski Dunkirk, NY.
Stephanie Schieferstine Vernon, NY
Marjorie Lant Horseheads NY
Destiny Rivera Glen Cove, NY.
Susan Turner Norwich, NY
Michael Smola Norwich, NY
Nicole Negron Wappingers Falls, NY
Jacqueline Walters Jacquie Walters. Lockport, NY
George Meindl Sayville, NY
Michael Hobson Ithaca, NY –
Elodie Massaro, Monroe, NY
Alita Vaughan, Brooklyn, NY
Julianne Slayden Slaterville Springs, NY
Blane Lightfoote, Stanley NY
Jonathan Howard, NY, NY
Corinne Converse, Syracuse, NY
James Van De Weert Geneseo, NY
Chauncey Thorn New York, NY
Donna Walker ’93 Piffard, NY
Evan Jennings Buffalo, New York
Kiley Staats, Rochester, NY
Isabel Potter Isabel Potter, New York, NY 10025
Maryann Borsick Herman Maryann Herman, Ph.D. Walworth, NY
Randy Barbarash, ALS 1973, Chester, NY
Christopher Chura Cohoes, NY
Micah J. Fleck New York, NY
Preston Baez New York City, NY
Christine Okun, Liverpool, New York
Chey Miller Palmyra, NY.
Joe Fodor Brooklyn, NY
Christopher Rutland White Plains, NY
Marlene OB Marlene OB, Ithaca NY
Holly Creavy Stony Point, NY
Jason Ridgeway Ontario, NY
Haley Braunegg Geneseo, NY
Brian Bliss Bliss, N.Y.
Scott Wyman Neagle Brooklyn, NY
Philip Bender Albany, NY
Michael Berbari New York, NY
Andy Newhouse Marietta, NY
Bernie Mooney, Brooklyn
Stephanie Hinshaw Albion, NY
Nicholas Tobi Gilbert Binghamton NY
Jerry Gallup New Hartford, NY
Robert Ronan NY, NY
Jim Sittnick Rochester, NY.
Jennifer Thorpe-Moscon Brooklyn, New York
Sandia Crest Andrea Beyer Glendale, NY
Anthony Kosmowski- Rochester, NY
Drew Ballard, NY NY
Jo Ellen Saumier,, Chateaugay,, NY
Gregory Liu Tivoli, NY.
James Mallinson, Richmond Hill, Queens, NY
Sharon Vonderchek Addison, NY
Roy Olcott Berkshire NY
Kevin Smith North Massapequa NY
Michael Szymanski Hamburg, NY
Nicholas DiGaudio, Flanders, NY
Kayla L Peate South Dayton, NY
Ioana Popa Gaskins Brooklyn NYC
Tawnya Radice Amherst, Ny
Alyssa Warawka New Woodstock NY
Charles Peter Castleton, New York
Lily Bartels Guilderland NY
Mark Murray Copenhagen NY
Jennifer Brady Orchard park, Ny
Steven Crevier Schenectady, NY
Christopher Frank Buffalo, New York 14207
Kait Maciejewski Batavia, NY
Flora Dogadkin Brooklyn, NY
Kimberly Blaszak, Corfu, NY 2009 alumni
Tyler Couch Rochester, NY
James Brooks, Merrick ny
Amy Verel Queens NYC
Kelly Evers Nassau, NY
Eric Harrington, Glendale, NY 11385
Aldrin Javier Bronx, New York
Glorie Anderson, Brooklyn, NY
Thomas DeWert Jr Corning, NY
Jillian Rose, Staten Island, NY
George Maxwell Mastic 11950
Hillary Meyer Middletown NY
Michael Trine. Sodus, NY.
Diana Peña, Brooklyn, NY
Julie Brocklehurst-Woods Geneseo, NY. I AM A Cornell-trained Master Gardener. My husband is an alum, we donate every year to Cornell.
Michael Bannigan, New York, NY
Nadia Nikulin (formerly Nadia Shevchuk), Class of 2014, Ithaca NY
Alison Steele of Castleton-on-Hudson, NY
Stefania Zimmerman Stony Brook, NY
Virginia Martelli, Brooklyn, NY
John Robby Hinshaw Buffalo, NY
Cari O’Brien Rochester NY
Lorelle Gifford Lorelle Dutcher, Franklin, New York.
Monica Ramstetter Ithaca, NY
Janice Smith Janice Smith,Franklin N.,Y.13775
Jamie Banister, Fort Drum / Evans Mills, NY
Adam Blood New York, NY
Lauren Kennedy from NYC, NY
Anastasia Schneider Mount Kisco, NY
Robert Harmer Coram, NY
Owen Smith Rochester, Ny
Crystal Richard Elmira, NY
Chris Murphy Carmel
Matthew Sterling Boonville, NY
Jason Gregory White Plains NY
Heather Warner Franklin, NY
Martin A. Winer, Rochester, NY
Keri Girvin, Ontario, NY
Brandyn Mark Lucca, Moriches, NY
Kirby Selkirk, Chateaugay N.Y.
Amanda Bentley Buffalo, NY
Tiffany Roach, East Syracuse, NY
Tara Anne McCloskey Staten Island, NY
Stephen Graham, Rochester, NY
Paul Contento Delmar NY
Elizabeth Wickham Selkirk, NY
Pamela Wright Watertown, NY
Stefani Pritchard Clinton, NY
Heather Geiger Brooklyn, NY
Bill Adcock William Adcock, Rochester, NY
Miranda Rice Trumansburg, NY
Danielle Basore Troy, NY!
Sara Lawler Owego, NY.
JoJo Pierce Albany, NY
Vicky Wolcott Depew, NY
Theresa Davis Rochester, NY
Raymond Popowich Rochester, NY
Jasmine Weed Rochester, NY
Jenna Weed Rocherster, NY
Janet A Lee New York, NY
Thanks to Carrington College for the great infographic!
Last year Friends of the Earth (FOE) published a report called Spinning Food. Rather than discussing the science behind genetic engineering, the authors (Kari Hamerschlag, Anna Lappe, and Stacy Malkan) focused solely on accusing any person or group who is pro-GMO of being industry shills.
One part of the report especially seems like an exercise in psychological projection. The entire pro-GMO movement is accused of existing in an echo chamber. This is a situation where a group simply repeats the same information and beliefs over and over again, while censoring all contradictory outside information.
Anyone who actually spends time studying the pro-GMO movement would know that this couldn’t be any further from the truth. We criticize each other all the time, and we do so publicly. Mark Lynas and Patrick Moore, who were previously with anti-GMO non-profits and are now pro-GMO, can be found on Twitter arguing about climate change. Kevin Folta criticized my FOIA requests on his blog. I criticized a member of March Against Myths who I believed to be undertaking some questionable actions. Steve Novella of Skeptics Guide to the Galaxy recently criticized the American Council For Science and Health for having few too many industry ties.
We are skeptics, we question information presented to us.
In a new level of hypocrisy, Spinning Food author Kari Hamerschlag, was discovered, in an email sent to NGOs, academics and industry executives, to be doing the very same things she criticizes the pro-GMO movement of doing.
Hamerschlag calls for the actual creation of an echo chamber to “spread the word”.
She then proceeds to give recipients of her email carefully crafted social media messages that can be used when sharing her report. The exact tactic that her co-author Stacy Malkan accused pro-GMO professors Kevin Folta and Calestous Juma of doing.
And use them they did.
Friends of the Earth relies on membership dues and a steady supply of donations. Are they really all that different from the corporations they claim to want to expose? Their product is fear, and they sell it well to their members.
Ultimately their Spinning Food report wasn’t about those corporations, it was about scaring people who wish to speak out in favor of biotechnology. Friends of the Earth is saying, “speak up and we will smear you next.”
While correlation is not causation, seeing how organic food sales has increased steadily along with the adult obesity rate in the United States begs the question -Is organic food contributing to obesity?
“Count chemicals, not calories!” is one of the most often screamed battle cries of the organic food movement. The phrase serves to demonstrate a lack of basic chemistry and biology knowledge. Everything is made up of chemicals, even that piece of organic fruit. Many of those naturally occurring chemicals are even carcinogenic.
Calories are units of energy. According to the National Institute of Health, “A lack of energy balance most often causes overweight and obesity. Energy balance means that your energy IN should equal your energy OUT.” Consume more calories than you burn and you gain weight, burn more than you consume and you lose weight.
Sedentary lifestyles cause those in the developed world to consume more than they burn. We spend too much time sitting down, and not enough exercising. Millions of years of evolution gave us an instinct to overconsume calories because we spent most of that time running after food, or running away from becoming food.
Now that doesn’t mean you can just eat junk food if you do a lot of jogging. Doritos and pizza every day are still going to pose a problem by increased sodium and saturated fat intake, which can cause its own own issues. You also need a balanced diet to make sure your body is getting nutrition so you can avoid wasting money on vitamin supplements.
Unfortunately, at some point in recent decades corporations discovered that they can get people to voluntarily pay more for food by scaring them. The organic label was born, followed more recently by “non-GMO” labels. One large global survey showed that “87% of consumers globally think non-GMO is ‘healthier’“. This is a problem.
Researchers at Cornell University showed that “consumers chose beverages, side dishes and desserts containing up to 131% more calories when the main dish was positioned as ‘healthy,’ even though the main dish contained more calories than the ‘unhealthy option'”.
Further research demonstrated, the “organic” label greatly influenced people’s perceptions. The cookies and yogurt were estimated to have significantly fewer calories when labeled “organic” and people were willing to pay up to 23.4% more for them. The nutritional aspects of these foods were also greatly biased by the health halo effect. The “organic” cookies and yogurt were said to taste ‘lower in fat’ than the “regular” variety, and the “organic” cookies and chips were thought to be more nutritious! The label even tricked people’s taste buds: when perceived as “organic”, chips seemed more appetizing and yogurt was judged to be more flavorful. “Regular” cookies were reported to taste better–possibly because people often believe healthy foods are not tasty. All of these foods were exactly the same, but a simple organic label made all the difference!”
When Post decided to get Non-GMO verified for their Grape Nuts, vitamins disappeared from their cereal because of genetic engineering used to create them. Capri Sun’s organic version of juice contains more calories and more sugar at a higher price than its conventional counterpart. A Pepsi executive even stated this about consumers “They are willing to go to organic non-GMO products even if they have high salt, high sugar, high fat.”
The media and public are quick to jump all over the sugar industry and soda companies for downplaying the importance of reduced sugar consumption. Yet because the organic industry has developed such a “health halo” around its products, it remains free of criticism. But is telling people Oreos would be healthy if they just went “GMO free” really any better than Coca Cola telling people to consume as much junk food as they want as long as they exercise?
Recently a very unusual piece showed up on the blog GMWatch, funded by the British organic industry through the Sheepdrove Trust. A young man by the name of Robert Schooler who attended Cornell University describes it as “complicit in a shocking amount of ecologically destructive, academically unethical, and scientifically deceitful behaviour.” Schooler appears to look down his nose at academics in general. He describes himself as “uninspired to continue traditional study”. He “never felt quite at ease, jumping through hoops, taking classes and tests that didn’t inspire me, in exchange for a piece of paper (degree) that somehow magically granted me a superior life.”
Cornell’s crime according to Schooler is simply being pro-biotechnology. He, of course fails to mention the massive organic farming program at Cornell University. Most offensive of all is referring to the visiting fellows from Africa as “indoctrinated into the industrial and GMO agriculture framework”. Did he bother to reach out to them? If he had he probably would have been told that Africa can speak for itself, as Cornell Fellow Patricita Nantenza does when criticizing both pro-GMO and anti-GMO writers.
I truly believe Schooler’s heart is in the right place. Unfortunately this young man is being used by a group of individuals who have dedicated their lives to opposing biotechnology.
This most recent attempt to paint the Cornell Alliance For Science as some kind of evil force is just the latest in a string of attacks on the institution, including using local organic farmers to protest science as well. All part of a coordinated effort by a group led by Claire Robinson (GM Watch) and Jonthan Latham.
In 2015 Cornell University, with funding primarily from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, began a fellowship program called the Alliance For Science. Diverse stakeholders are brought to Ithaca, NY from around the world with a goal of “reclaiming the conversation around agricultural biotechnology so that science- and evidence-based perspectives drive decision-making.” Environmentalist Mark Lynas, who once campaigned against agricultural biotechnology, is now part of the core staff.
Documents obtained from Washington State University via a freedom of information request now reveal a chain of emails describing a coordinated effort on the part of anti-biotechnology leaders to smear and neutralize Lynas and Cornell University.
Jonathan Latham, who runs several anti-GMO web pages and resides near Cornell, attended one of the first talks hosted by the Alliance. He appears to take a special interest in Atu Darko, the associate director of communications. Latham oddly makes special note about Darko being gay. Latham struck at Cornell early on, writing a post that appeared on several blogs and encouraged many people to harass a coop where Cornell was hosting a talk in order to cancel the event.
Phillip Bereano, professor emeritus at the University of Washington, is a member of Agra Watch. An organization that claims to seek to strengthen local economies, Agra Watch recently protested the testing of a biofortified banana that has the potential to prevent blindness in thousands of people in Uganda. Writing to a network of anti-biotechnology groups on a Google Group called “gmolist”, Boreano describes how Agra Watch has a researcher assigned to investigate Cornell University and the “activities” there.
Why do they care? Why can’t they just continue on with business as usual and just hold their rallies and scream about corporations? Anthony Jackson with GeneWatch UK explains the position they feel Cornell and the Gates Foundation has placed them in. For decades the organic industry, NGOs like Greenpeace, and anti-biotechnology extremists have worked to shape a narrative that genetically engineered crops are solely about corporate greed and pesticides. Now with the success of bt eggplant in Bangladesh (free from corporate ties), and the story of nonprofit crop trials being destroyed catching the attention of the media, these groups are losing control of that narrative.
Brian John of GM-Free Cymru goes on to explain how what he calls the “feed the world” narrative is “there all the time”. The anti-GMO movement has complained for thirty years how biotechnology has not been a benefit to mankind. Brian John appears to think there is something wrong now with corporations donating technology to non profits, and seeds being given away to farmers for free in developing nations.
They especially see Mark Lynas as one of their biggest threats. Having worked previously against biotech crops, he seems to have now devoted his life to their promotion. Someone who was once on their side and apologizing for it, is now defined by Brian John in one word – “yuck”.
Claire Robinson of GM Watch, Earth Open Source, and GMO Free USA describes a plan in which they talk about needing to find a counter to Lynas, namely involving a scientist that was once in favor of genetic engineering. They would find such a person in Belinda Martineau at UC Davis, who claims to have worked on the FlavrSavr tomato. Robinson appears to remain very pessimistic, and feels “at the mercy of the pro-GMO narrative”
Kevin Folta of the University of Florida’s Horiticultural Sciences department recently felt some of the anger over this narrative when he did a podcast on the bt brinjal (eggplant) success in Bangladesh. Explaining how the anti-GMO movement had mostly been leaving him alone recently, a large attack on him via Twitter was launched:
“It appears that science has hit a nerve. Some of the poorest people are growing food and eating, sustainably. You’d think that critics would be celebrating. But to an emotional and science-free movement, when the technology they oppose serves others, they are caught between acknowledging that it is doing good and abandoning their sacred belief that this technology can do no good– ever.”
Ultimately this campaign against Cornell University and the Gates Foundation shows that their ideological hatred of genetic engineering goes far beyond corporations and pesticides. They want all products of genetic engineering treated the same, regardless of trait. While Monsanto can stand up for itself, these public biotechnology researchers without corporate backing cannot.
This is why Greenpeace destroys publicly funded crop trials in Australia after demanding that more trials be completed. This is why anti-GMO groups in developing countries tell farmers that these seeds will make them sterile or turn them gay. This is why American college students felt the need to protest GM banana trials in the US, after labeling any attempt to do so in the developing world as akin to treating people in those countries as guinea pigs.
On their web page Consumers Union claims to be impartial and unbiased. So why are they actively collaborating with anti-biotechnology groups and the organic industry behind the scenes?
Recently obtained emails from Washington State University via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show Senior Staff Scientist Michael Hansen using his Consumers Union email to actively participate in the gmolist. ‘Independent’ anti-biotech scientists and activists use the Google Group for secret coordination and planned attacks.
In one email he describes environmentalist Mark Lynas and ex-Greenpeace turned Golden Rice promoter Patrick Moore as “puppets for industry”. He recommends using Belinda Martineau as a counter to them, being a qualified scientist critical of the technology.
If Hansen had used a private email address, one could allow for him as a private individual to communicate with people sharing his views as he chooses. But here he is seen acting in official capacity for Consumers Union.
Members of the gmolist with industry connections include:
Sarah Compson of the Soil Association in the UK
Janet Cotter of Logos Environmental, whose business offers “advice” to NGOs about biotechnology.
John Fagan, the original founder of Genetic ID used by the NON-GMO Project to test food.
Jim Diamond of the Sierra Club
Ken Roseboro of the industry funded trade magazine, The Organic and NON-GMO Report
Charles Benbrook, organic industry consultant
This last name on the list, Charles Benbrook, is perhaps the most controversial of them all. Consumers Union has used him in many reports to promote the organic food industry and instill fear into families about eating fruits and vegetables. Most recently in 2015 he consulted with their staff scientists scientists on an article with many false and misleading claims. The report mentions that “natural” pesticides used in organic farming are generally safer than “synthetic” pesticides used in conventional farming practices, an untrue statement.
Consumers Union failed to disclose the funding Benbrook has received from industry for his consulting services as well as his research during his time at Washington State University. This is information that Consumers Union should have been aware of with Michael Hansen and Benbrook collaborating together in the gmolist.
Former United States Surgeon General Koop once described Michael Hansen’s fearmongering campaign as “baseless, manipulative and completely irresponsible.” Considering that Consumers Union has always taken a pro-vaccination stance, Hansen is also a danger to public health. Steven Druker, Claire Robinson, and John Fagan on the gmolist are all part of the Maharishi Transcendental Meditation cult which was responsible for a measles outbreak in Iowa (Claire Robinson is the manager of the gmolist).
Consumers Union claims to empower “consumers with the knowledge they need to make better and more informed choices” and claim to be free of “commercial influences”. This may be true on matters such as interest rates and warning about the dangers of cigarettes. When it comes to our food supply their senior staff scientist appears to be deeply influenced by corporations with the goal to spread fear rather than knowledge.
I tend to stay out of abortion discussions, I value not having my neck slit too much. It is one of those issues where both sides really do argue from too much emotion. But there is one Facebook page on the topic I occasionally check in on, Pro-Life Discussions. I may disagree with them in practice (my own thoughts are in that grey area in-between), but they do get one thing right that many on the pro-life side don’t; prevention of unwanted pregnancies to begin with can only be a good thing. They (or at least one of their administrators) are pro-GMO and pro-vaccine.
Contrary to the misconception that opposition to GMOs and vaccines is the liberal version of the conservative opposition to climate science, there is a movement of conservatives opposed to both. As an example Barbara Loe Fisher, who runs the terribly named National Vaccine Information Center, called the HPV shot the “slut shot” saying it would encourage young women to be promiscuous.
A myth has also been going around the anti-science branch of the conservative community about vaccines using cells from recently aborted fetuses. In reality they are produced using the same line of cells from one abortion decades ago, that would have occurred regardless of what was done with those cells. Even for people that see a fetus as being a child, it shouldn’t be any different than organ donations.
In 2011 US teen pregnancies, birth rates, and abortion rates reached an historic low. This is a trend that appears to be occurring in countries that have educated women, access to contraceptives, and access to health care. This is essentially the Bill Gates plan to solve over population. Instead of trying to control birth rates by force, he is trying to raise the standard of living (something vaccines and GMOs contribute to).
Contrary to the belief held by many that the world was so much better in “their day”, the world of the 1960s and 1970s was pretty grim. Whether you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade or not, the timing of the landmark case taking place in this era was no coincidence.
Pessimists of those decades saw the world’s population as a ticking time bomb. China instituted a one child policy and India created policies to encourage sterilization (encouraged by loans from the West). Bestselling books like Famine 1975! and The Population Bomb written in the 1960s would even go so far as to call for an end to food aid, thinking it wasn’t worth the cost to save a doomed developing world.
So at a time when the population pessimists had control of public dialog, it almost makes sense that abortion rights would be granted to women.
The pessimists were proven wrong, but the damage they did to the developing world should not be forgotten. China’s one child policy would lead to the deaths of many baby girls in an attempt to ensure the one child is a son, and there were reports in India of men in villages being dragged away for forced sterilization.
The fact is that countries with educated women, economic development, urbanization, and high life expectancy have falling birth rates. And isn’t that what we all want? Falling birth rates means falling abortion rates.
That means getting women off of subsistence farms and into schools. Findings from the World Resources Institute indicate that improving agricultural technology is key to reach that goal. Increasing yields with better seed along with using natural solutions to avoid soil degradation with native plants can help us “farm smarter”.
This is contrary to what the organic movement is all about. They want women working in the fields all day picking weeds and bugs instead of going to school. (Pesticide free farming!) Yet such reversal of human development would only bring back the era of forced sterilizations and one child policies.
If the pro-life movement is stressed out today, do they really want to return to a time when governments imposed mandatory abortions?
Women have a MILLION things to worry about when it comes to their vaginas.
- Will it go back after I have this baby?
- Does it smell weird?
- Does it look funny?
- Can you see camel toe through these yoga pants?
- Are blood clots the size of chicken nuggets normal?
- Is my daughter worrying about the “panty challenge” on Instagram… and by god, I will kill her.
Were you worried about putting CHEMICALS where BABIES COME FROM? No?
Well, now you can be! “Chemophobia” or an irrational fear of chemicals is being stoked by the organic industry in a slick, celebrity-studded marketing campaign aiming to get up-close and personal with us, and I do mean personal.
Maya Rudolph (she’s an “every” girl, just like you and me of course!) croons in her low, somewhat off-key comedic-voice about how the feminine care should be free of perfumes, unnecessary chemicals and chlorine processing for nearly two minutes and by the time she is done, you are filled with self-doubt and new fears about our most intimate lady parts.
Why would anyone want to make you worry about putting chemicals in your vagina? The organic industry would.
It is BIG business. U.S. organic sales set a new record in 2015 of $43.3 billion in sales.
For example, in 2012, The Honest Company, a company that started out with natural baby products but has since expanded, made $150 million in revenues last year.
Industry insiders are predicting revenues in excess of $250 million for this year, with an overall valuation of $1 billion dollars
The feminine hygiene industry in the U.S. alone is $3 billion/year. This is a good chunk to add to this growing industry.
Let’s take a look at some of the organic tampons marketing claims and the science behind them.
#1. Organic tampons are healthier and safer than non-organic: Not really.
Most of the marketing claims I found say that organic pads and tampons are “healthier and safer for your body.”
Do you know who worries about things you stick in your vagina more than you ever could? The FDA. That’s right. Tampons are actually a class II medical device– heavily regulated by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.
Just like something you stick inside your body right next to sensitive mucus membranes and where you grow your babies should be. Regular tampons, pads and other feminine hygiene products do not use toxic chemicals.
The government actually IS in our vaginas. FDA regulations cover every aspect from selection of tampon size and absorbency, to tampon insertion methods to how tampons should be worn and the wear-time, to tampon removal and disposal.
Clinical testing for all tampons must provide proof that meets rigorous criteria for:
- effects on vaginal microflora,
- laceration and
- residual fiber retention.
#2. Organic tampons are made without chlorine bleach: same for conventional ones.
I found some variation of this marketing claim on every website I visited:
“Made without bleach, pesticide-treated cotton, fragrances, deodorants, rayon, or synthetic superabsorbents — everything you need, nothing you don’t!”
Is this claim based in science or is it more fiction?
First lets tackle chlorine bleach and rayon, because they are really one and the same issue. We worry about bleach in our home cleaning products, coffee filters, and face tissues.
So why not in our feminine hygiene products? In the 1980s, after the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency we discovered many environmental contaminants. Dioxin was one of them.
In 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a report stating that dioxins are known to cause cancer in animals, and probably cause cancer in people.
Dioxin is the byproduct of the process from converting wood pulp into a synthetic fiber called Rayon, which is also used for fabric.
Tampons are usually made of cotton and rayon. Up until the late 1990’s, bleaching the wood pulp resulted in traces of dioxin in tampons, but that method has since been replaced with a chlorine-free bleaching process for all tampons.
In general, the dioxin hazard has been reduced because of the new, non-chlorine bleaching methods, but it can still be detected in low levels tampons — even those made of 100% cotton.
This is due to the previous decades of pollution; dioxin can be found in the air, water, and ground.
Therefore, small amounts of dioxin may be present in the cotton or wood pulp raw materials used to make tampons, regardless of whether they are organic or not.
The FDA requires all tampon manufacturers to monitor dioxin levels in their finished products.
#3. Organic tampons are made without synthetic supeabsoerbents: Same for conventional tampons!
What about synthetic superabsorbents? That sounds legit, right?! In the 1980s some superabsorbent tampons were associated with “toxic shock syndrome,” a systemic blood infection.
However, the CDC and FDA moved quickly to protect our health after this complication was discovered and the superabsorbent materials have been banned in ALL tampons since then.
#4. Organic tampons are fragnance-free: You can find conventional fragrance-free tampons as well!
The fragrances used in tampons do meet the strict safety standards set by the International Fragrance Association, and are tested extensively for irritation.
However, some people may have extremely sensitive skin and want to avoid fragrances and deodorants altogether. There are plenty unscented conventional choices available by all major brands.
#5. Organic tampons are pesticide-free: False! Organic uses pesticides, sometimes even more toxic than the ones used in conventional crops.
And what about pesticide levels in cotton? Cotton is neither a fruit nor a vegetable, it is a seed crop; like sunflowers, soybeans, or safflower.
However, cotton is regulated as a food crop by the FDA: The Food & Drug Administration states in its Code of Federal Regulations: Title 21: Food and Drugs, Part 172 that “cottonseed products may be used for human consumption.”
As such, it is a subject to the same rigorous government oversight as food crops, even if it is to be used for textile purposes.
If you don’t trust our own FDA to test accurately for harmful residues, then perhaps use can trust the German Bremmer Cotton Exchange, which carries out extensive testing of cottons from all over the world according to the Eco-Tex 100 Standards (a global standards organization headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland).
They have found that US cotton is among the cleanest in the world, no matter how it is produced, with pesticide levels nearly undetectable.
Over 60 chemicals, both “naturally derived” AND synthetic, are allowed in “organic” production methods. Some natural pesticides can be even more dangerous that synthetic ones, neem oil, used in organic cotton farming is a great example.
In a study funded by the Natural Science and Engineering Council of Canada, six different insecticides were analyzed: four were synthetic and two organic; the organic ones turned out to be more toxic than their synthetic counterparts.
#6. Organic tampons are made with GOTS Certified Organic Cotton: This is worse for the environment.
Many of the brands I found use “100% GOTS Certified Organic Cotton.”
Sounds like it is good for the environment, right? Wrong.
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is one of the world’s leading processing standard for textiles made from organic fibers. It defines high-level environmental criteria along the entire organic textiles supply chain and requires compliance with social criteria as well. Organic cotton must be non-GMO.
Like many non-gmo crops, non-GMO cotton suffers from a “resources” problem, it uses too much of them and yields a much smaller amount of cotton. The yield for non-GMO cotton crops is roughly 50% less than conventional cotton (for area of land.) This means you need double the land to produce the same amount of cotton.
- The requirement for more land and more resources means that organic cotton has a much larger “ecological footprint” than conventional cotton.
- On top of that, organic cotton is necessarily sprayed insecticide application for organic cotton (usually externally applied Bt protein,) and these additional applications require more tractor passes, which contributes to the large carbon footprint of organic cotton.
- Lastly, organic cotton growers can’t use synthetic herbicides (or GMO Round-Up Ready seeds). Cotton is a very sensitive and slow growing crop that will produce NO yield if weeds are allowed to grow near the trees. Organic weed control methods are entirely dependent on tillage, tractor passes and rotary hoes. Tillage and cultivation is necessary two to three times per week. This means more fuel emissions, wear and tear on equipment, with a higher carbon footprint.
GMO cotton varieties produce 25–50% more yield worldwide, compared to the cotton varieties grown 40 years ago. The use of genetically improved (Bt trait) cotton strains has allowed some countries to reduce their cotton insecticide use by up to 90%! They are drought resistant; therefore they need less irrigation and use less water.
The bottom line is these miracle, good for the environment, GMO cotton varieties cannot be used to produce “100% GOTS certified organic cotton.”
#7. Organic tampons include no phtalates or BPA — these don’t cause issues in conventional tampons either.
The last of the claims I found center around the applicator itself. For example “Made without phthalates, the innovative compact plastic tampon applicator is made from 90%+ bio-based materials” and “BPA-Free plastic applicators”
Both BPA and phthalates are “endocrine disruptors.” Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects.
A wide variety of products are used by women in the genital area and, therefore, come into contact with the genital mucosa. The largest category is those used for cleanliness and odor control, such as soaps and body washes, douches, premoistened wipes and towelettes, dusting powder and deodorant sprays.
The next largest are those that absorb fluids, such as products used for menstrual protection (tampons, pads and panty liners) and incontinence protection. Lubricants and moisturizers, and aesthetic products (hair removal products and dyes), and fungal treatments are also fairly common.
Studies have looked at the urine of women who use these products, and found that the only substantial increase in the level of phthalates (not whether this level relates to any disorder or condition what-so-ever) is related to douching, NOT to feminine hygiene product use.
Organic pads and tampons: They are no better for you or the environment.
So, should you buy organic tampons and organic feminine hygiene products? In many states, feminine hygiene products are already taxed as “luxury items” in most states, and going green “down there” can double those costs:
- A 10-pack of Honest Company regular pads costs $6, whereas a 16-pack of Always goes for just over $3.
- For $7, you could get 16 Honest Company organic tampons or 34 from Kotex.
Going organic is no better for you or the environment. But the marketing is as brilliant as the vajingle is catchy.
Now join the conversation at Fitness Reloaded and leave a comment and let us know: Are you buying organic cotton tampons? Why/why not?
Bahlai et al., Choosing Organic Pesticides over Synthetic Pesticides May Not Effectively Mitigate Environmental Risk in Soybeans. PLoS ONE 5(6): e11250. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011250
Branch F. et al., Vaginal douching and racial/ethnic disparities in phthalates exposures among reproductive-aged women: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001–2004. Environ Health. 2015 Jul 15;14:57. doi: 10.1186/s12940–015–0043–6.