Saturday, October 06, 2012
Big Island dairy GMO corn crops evade news coverage on Oahu
by Larry Geller
We’ve written about the problems with milk imported to Hawaii—which arrives here in unrefrigerated tanks and must be re-pasteurized before sale—and mentioned alternatives: the last two dairy farms left in the islands.
Milk from a dairy on the Big Island has been available there and also in Foodland, Whole Foods Market, Kokua Market and perhaps other outlets on Oahu. It costs more than imported milk but has gathered wide enough support that it has been continuously available here.
A new controversy is raging about this milk, mostly on the Big Island. Articles appeared last month in newspapers and blogs reporting that the dairy has been growing GMO corn to feed to its cows.
The most comprehensive coverage of the controversy I’ve seen is in this Big Island Chronicle article by journalist Alan D. McNarie:
Hawaii News — Island Dairy Uses GMO Corn (Big Island Chronicle, 10/1/2012). McNarie’s article covers not only the protests against and reactions of the dairy, but also provides significant background on GMO corn and the research around its safety.
[Update/correction: It is not the corn grain that is being fed to the cows. The Big Island Chronicle article was clear that it is the stalks, fed as silage. I should have been as clear in this article. Silage is, according to the Big Island Chronicle, “green stalks that are cut, chopped and stored in a low-oxygen environment so that they ferment in a process similar to the making of sauerkraut.”] [Afterthought: what about pesticide residue on stalks??]
The news has not spread widely here on Oahu. Pacific Business News noted that Residents upset by Big Island Dairy's GMO corn (9/24/2012). That bare-bones article was aggregated by Civil Beat on the same day. Yes, residents of the Big Island have been upset, and on Oahu, they’ve been kept in the dark.
The McNarie article cites the economic reasons offered by the dairy owners for growing GMO rather than conventional corn for their cows. In situations such as this, it is often economic pressure that influences business owners to make different choices.
In other words, if the news were not “disappeared” here on Oahu, perhaps informed consumers would act via their purchasing power, either continuing to purchase milk from the Big Island or ... or … or switching back to that imported stuff that needs repasteurizing.
Organic milk is GMO-free. Costco's organic milk is shipped in refrigerated containers and is not repasteurized. So we do have alternatives.
All imported milk (including organic) is pasteurized at high temperatures (UHT), which affects flavor. The Big Island milk is pasteurized at a lower temperature, and tastes better.
If GMO foods were labeled, we could make decisions based on our own preferences. Local and low-temp pasteurization but cows fed GMO corn? Organic/non-GMO but imported and UHT pasteurized? Lowest price but imported, GMO, UHT, and repasteurized?
It's bad enough having to weigh these factors. But without labeling we are robbed of our right to make informed decisions.
Yes, we reported some time ago that Costco's milk is shipped in refrigerated containers. But if you buy milk at your local supermarket that is shipped in unrefrigerated containers, it is not UHT pasteurized, it is re-pasteurized on arrival at Meadow Gold, regardless of the brand (for example, Foremost, which used to be a Hawaii dairy).
I agree completely that low-temperature pasteurized milk tastes better. But we won't be buying Big Island milk now that we know about the GMO corn.
You're right about having to weigh these choices, and about the labeling. I didn't know. Others may feel differently, but we should have the right to know about the food we consume.
Air, water, food... these are the most important things, and it looks like it will take continuous vigilance to preserve them.
Thank you for your comment.
Hawai'i is blessed to have the UH Manoa Foundation Seed Lab containing many non-genetically engineered varieties Dr. Jim Brewbaker has classically bred over the past 50 years. I'm sure that Dr. Brewbaker has varieties that could be grown for silage, which is the purpose of these corn fields. These varieties have had most if not all tropical diseases bred out of them already. Since we have such a treasure here, why go with seed from the mainland that certainly will encounter disease pressures with time.
I think you can count on any milk, other than certified organic, is coming from cows fed on GMO corn. Just like any non-organic processed food that has corn (or soy) as an ingredient is more likely to be GMO than conventional. That's just how it is. Hopefully our neighbors in California will vote correctly on prop 37 and get this labeling thing going. Then, we'll at least be knowing for sure and start making educated purchases with our food dollars. Getting the GMO status on the label should be the tipping point for reduced acres of GMO crops being grown and despoiling the farmlands of our nation.
On September 17, 2012, I went to a GMO presentation and concert at the Peoples Theatre in Honokaa. During part of the program, I sat near the "stand in" for the new owner of Big Island Dairy. I asked some questions about the Ookala cornfield and the gentleman told me that the dairy was growing GMO and non-GMO corn to compare the bottom line. I don't know if what he said is legit, but I sincerely hope that the new owner of Big Island Dairy will find Non-GMO is the only way to go. With all of the health risks and detriments GMOs and the chemicals GMOs require, people are becoming more aware because they want to protect their families and themselves from these hidden health risks. Undeniable rises in cancer, diseases and obesity upon the advent of GMOs has folks thinking more about the environment and their health. Consumers will want to buy the local milk even if it costs more if it can honestly say Non-GMO on the label. After several cancer scares and surgeries 20 years ago, for health reasons I try my best to avoid pesticides & GMOs, eat only free-range & organic as well as using only organic and environmentally friendly products.
And, the other issue is...why feed cattle corn? They grow and produce milk on GRASS...corn is not natural to their diet, and causes gas & bloating. My friends on the Big Island produce wonderful milk from cows not fed corn at all!
After carefully reading prop 37 (CA), I don't believe it would apply in this situation.
GMO's fed to or injected into animals would not require their milk products to be GMO labeled. Big dairy loophole.
Ramona, I failed to indicate in my article that the corn was to be fed to the cows as silage, which is described in the Big Island Chronicle as "green stalks that are cut, chopped and stored in a low-oxygen environment so that they ferment in a process similar to the making of sauerkraut."
That's my fault. I'm going to correct the article now.
To Anonymous 10:14:00 good point. Perhaps, if Prop 37 passes we might have a chance to enact our own legislation here in Hawaii?
Would feeding GMO corn silage to cows affect the organic status of the milk sold?
Organic meat and milk come from animals fed organic feed, preferably pastured on grass. GMO silage would not be allowed.