nongmoverifiedprojectIf you shop at your local food co-op, Whole Foods, or a number of other natural food grocery stores you have probably seen this label.  One of the newest seals in the marketplace, this one attempts to assure shoppers that the product does not contain GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).  Unlike the mandatory GMO labeling laws which a number of states have been trying to pass at the polls, this initiative is seemingly noncontroversial.  Who can find fault with the pretty butterfly hanging out in nature’s green pastures?  Who could argue with an initiative that lets you know that the product is a wholesome choice for you and your family?  Yet, what and who are really behind this initiative?  Is it as pure and wholesome as the image and the colors of the blue sky and the green pastures would have us believe?

Equal Exchange has of course been asked by some of our customers why we have not chosen to put this seal on our products (which are all free of GMOs).  In order to educate ourselves, and our consumers, we have delved into the issue to better understand how this initiative came to be and who it potentially benefits and harms.  After our latest lively discussion, several of our sales representatives were particularly motivated to do further research into different aspects of the issue. This week we will feature those opinion pieces.

Today, we hear from Jenica Rosen, sales representative, based in our Portland, Oregon office:

Looking Beyond the Label: Non-GMO Project Verified

There are many reasons some consumers are choosing to avoid products that contain Genetically Modified Organisms, otherwise known as GMOs. For some, it is an issue with the severely negative environmental impacts—contaminating our water resources[1] and destroying biodiversity within our ecosystems[2]. For others, it is the concern for the health and wellbeing of farmworkers exposed to the dangerous herbicide, Glyphosate (used on Glyphosate tolerant GM crops), which seeps into their communities, and sometimes with lethal consequences[3]. Others choose to avoid GMOs out of skepticism regarding the safety of GMO consumption and personal concern for their health.

Whatever cause for avoiding them, the lack of stricter federal regulation and labeling of GMOs has created a need for another way to inform consumers of what is in their food. It was out of this need, it seems, that the Non GMO Project and their label, Non GMO Project Verified, were born.

As the title suggests, this label seeks to “offer transparency to consumers about a product’s GMO avoidance practices.[4]” As you may have noticed, these days the butterfly seal of Non GMO Project Verified seems to be ubiquitous. It has been so successful in fact, that they are now “the fastest growing label in the natural products industry, representing $7 billion in annual sales and more than 21,000 verified products.[5]

Those figures suggest some influence within the natural foods market and as with anything in this position, it is worthwhile for all of us as consumers to do our research, look deeper, and ask “what is this achieving and for whom?” While the answer will vary depending on your perspective, in some cases (such as the one described below) the evidence can be disturbing.

I once had a professor who told us that if you want the truth, follow the money. Here in Oregon, we are still counting votes to settle whether or not Measure 92 for Mandatory GMO Labeling will pass. So, as you can imagine, there has been a lot of this “following the money” going on. And what has been found is that A LOT of money was pumped in from large corporate donors in an attempt to defeat the measure—and by “a lot” I mean over $20 million dollars[6]. In addition to Monsanto and DuPont, some notable donors to No on 92 included Kellogg ($500,000), General Mills ($695,000), and ConAgra Foods ($250,000), to name just a few[7].

So, why is this relevant to the Non-GMO Verified label? All three of the above listed donors also own swaths of the organic and natural foods industry, such as Kashi (Kellog), Cascadia Farm Organic (General Mills), and Alexia Foods (ConAgra); all three of which now carry many Non-GMO Verified products.

The Non GMO Project exists to inform consumers about a product’s “GMO avoidance practices” and encourages consumers to “vote at the polls AND with our wallets.[8]” While this can be helpful, it also may be entirely contradictory if we are voting at the polls for GMO policy reform while simultaneously (and worse, unknowingly) giving our money to the very companies (by purchasing their products) who are working feverishly at striking those policies down. It for this reason that it is crucial, as it is with any eco-label, to look beyond the label and behind the curtain. Continue Reading »

Have you ever wondered where cashew nuts come from?  What do they look like when growing on the tree and how are they processed?

Now you can stop wondering!  In this delightful, 3-minute video produced by Emily Buehler at the Weaver Street Market, in Carrboro, North Carolina from a powerpoint presentation we delivered to their staff in August, you can see each step in the process from tree to ready-to-eat nut.  The photos were taken at the Aprainores Cashew Co-op in San Vicente, El Salvador by Julia Hechtman.  (And a few by Mark DiMaggio and me).

We hope you enjoy it!  To learn more about cashew nuts, Aprainores, our Fair Foods Program, and the Grow Together Fund, click here.

Consumers buy fair trade products because they think they are supporting positive social change with their dollars. We firmly believe that this is the case with many Fair Trade products, at least those which are sourced from small farmer co-operatives. (Such as all Equal Exchange coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, avocados, olive oil, cashews, dried fruit, and other products.)

Sadly, this is no longer true across all products that carry one of the many fair trade labels appearing in the market. Especially in the case of those products, that are sourced from large plantations, such as bananas and tea, it is less clear what (if any) positive impact comes from the fair trade certification. In the case of tea, especially from India, several studies have come out recently which suggest that not only are working and living conditions on some of these plantations deplorable, but that they are actually worse than conditions on neighboring non-certified plantations.

In fact, it has been argued that by allowing these brands to market their tea as fair trade, and misleading consumers into thinking they are supporting positive social change, the certifiers are creating a greater disservice to tea plantation workers.

We ask companies marketing plantation-sourced tea to REFRAIN from using the fair trade label and we ask the certifiers to STOP certifiying plantation tea from India as fair trade.

We ask consumers to learn more about the conditions on plantations, fair trade or otherwise, and the practices of the companies that source from them.

Below is a paid ad that Equal Exchange has published in several newspapers last week asking Twinings Tea Company to do the right thing.

Buyer Beware!


By Daniel Fireside, Capital Coordinator

For hundreds of years, Coffee was grown “organically,” without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, and creating a rich and biodiverse ecosystem. A few decades ago, this changed. Synthetic inputs led to booming production, but the cost to the soil, water, and a warming planet have been paid most steeply by the farming communities. A growing number of small-scale farmers are trying to shift production back to its organic roots, but the expenses and barriers can be insurmountable for farmers on their own. In order to put coffee back on the path of sustainability, they need coffee drinkers and businesses in consuming countries not only to pay the costs of going organic but also to support the farmer’s most critical ally, the cooperative. This is the heart of Equal Exchange’s business model, although it’s one that has taken on a growing urgency as our natural environment faces increasing jeopardy.

Read more here.

Cooperation Among Cooperatives

A visit to Mexico brings together three parts of one complete cooperative supply chain—farmer co-op (CIRSA) to worker-owned co-op (Equal Exchange) to consumer co-op (Co-op Food Stores).


Learn More here.

We #SustainUSFWC because our Federation is helping build a #neweconomy.  Here’s some of the things the USFWC has done this year for co-ops. Help them grow by becoming a Sustaining Member today!


Peasant Assembly of the Coordination of Latin American Rural Organizations and La Vía Campesina in Central America (CLOC-LVC-CA)

The Peasant Movement Defines its Position on the Climate and Food Crisis in Central America

The member organizations of CLOC-Via Campesina Central America, from Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, are together in assembly in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, this August 31st and September 1st, 2014. After carrying out consideration and analysis of the grave situation in the Central American countryside and the peasant movement in the region, we reach out to the Central American public, the governments of the region and the international community with the following conclusions:

1. The effect of climate change and the lack of preventive measures by the neoliberal governments in the last 20 years have combined to aggravate the food and climate crises in the entire Central American region, to such a degree that today we face a near-total loss of the first harvest of the year due to a severe drought. More than three million peasant families currently face insolvency and a complete inability to attempt a second harvest—without seeds, credit, or water. The immediate effects of this crisis are malnutrition, accelerated migration, and massive increases of school dropouts, as well as food hoarding and speculation by the private sector. Meanwhile, the main response by government has been to increase the imports of basic grains—leading to historic profits by importers and the destruction of national farm economies—as well as the rushed approval of new seed laws that fling open the doors to genetically engineered crops, gravely threatening our native seeds. The absence of public sector strategies for building food sovereignty means, in effect, that Central American governments have abandoned the possibility of supporting peasant production, public credit, technical assistance and farm diversification.

In the case of coffee, the coffee rust epidemic has arrived in the context of governments that abandon small farmers to their fate, thus multiplying their suffering and leading to greater unemployment and malnutrition among rural workers.

2. La Via Campesina in Central America affirms that the climate crisis is not temporary but rather a structural symptom of capitalism that threatens our region with permanent negative impacts and greater food insecurity.

3. The food and climate crises have no solution as long as public policy continues to advance contaminated seeds, the invasion of our territories by megaprojects related to foreign mining and energy industries, the concession of our common goods to transnational capital, and the forced acceptance of monoculture plantations of non-food crops that displace our families from our traditional lands and territories.

4. We categorically condemn the repression and criminalization of peasant struggle, including the murders, violent evictions, and legal persecution of peasants. We express our solidarity with the peasants of Honduras and Guatemala, who have suffered the most intense repression of their struggles, including the murder of our
friend Margarita Murillo earlier this week.

5. We reiterate our calls on governments and international institutions, including the Central American Integration System (SICA), the FAO and the FIDA to convoke a Central American Summit to urgently address the food and climate crisis, with the
participation of peasant sectors, small producers, rural women and indigenous peoples.

6. It is absolutely necessary to advance our concept of integrated agrarian reform. Within this framework of legislative reforms, it is critical that new proposed laws be approved, such as the legislation related to rural development in Guatemala, as well as the law of Food Security and Sovereignty in El Salvador, and the law of Integrated Agrarian Reform in Honduras.

Land reform and agroecology for people’s food sovereignty!
Globalize struggle, globalize hope!
September 1st, 2104
Tegucigalpa, Honduras


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