Inspiring Ideas

Does Starbucks Still Want to be part of the Grocery Manufacturers Association?
Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Rumors are circulating that Starbucks teamed up with Monsanto to sue the state of Vermont over their law to label genetically engineered foods. 

Starbucks obviously felt the heat and issued a statement to the press and said: “Starbucks is not a part of any lawsuit pertaining to GMO labeling nor have we provided funding for any campaign.  And Starbucks is not aligned with Monsanto to stop food labeling or block Vermont State law."

Both companies aren’t named in the lawsuit, but they are both members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a lobbying group that filed the suit.  And the truth is that  Starbucks is part of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association is the voice of more than 300 large food, beverage and consumer product companies.  But as controversy like this grows for its members, will it become a relic of the 20th century?   

A question that it starting to pop up is: Is the Grocery Manufacturers Association still delivering value to its members?  Would members be better served by forming a new organization? What if a new group started?  Let’s just hypothetically call it the Food Production Association, and its mission was to meet the needs of companies in the 21st century?

A look back at the history of the Grocery Manufacturers Association suggests this might be a good idea.

Founded in 1908, the Grocery Manufacturers Association is a self-described, active, vocal advocate for its member companies and a trusted source of information about the industry and the products consumers rely on.

But do 21st century consumers actually turn to this organization today or is it a relic of the 20th century?  And is it an advocate for its members?

The organization’s website goes on to say:

“A vital role of GMA is to serve as a central resource for our members, providing industry model practices and a means for collaboration between members, retailers and service providers on important challenges and opportunities facing the industry."

The organization may have done that twenty years ago, but is it still doing that today?

The landscape of health has changed, and it is changing the landscape of food.  Today, the rates of diabetes is skyrocketing, 1 in 4 children has a chronic condition, 1 in 13 children has a food allergy, 1 in 10 has asthma and 1 in 68 has autism, with cancer now the leading cause of death by disease in American children.  The rates of these conditions are escalating, and parents are reading labels. 

Did any of us expect motherhood or fatherhood to look like this? Not at all.  No one would choose autism, life threatening food allergies or cancer.  No one.  But we find ourselves face to face with these conditions every day.  It is changing so many things in our lives, and it is changing how we approach the grocery store.

Some companies want to spend millions of dollars debating how we got here.  Parents don’t have time.  Their hands are tied managing these health conditions.  CNN/TIME reported that the additional costs of raising a child with food allergies is $4,200/year.  Consumers want transparency and denying them basic information about what is in the food we are feeding our loved ones is out of touch.

Over the last year, more than 60 state laws have been introduced to label genetically engineered ingredients in foods.  Consumers know about it, companies know about it.  Companies inside the Grocery Manufacturers Association are producing product lines without these ingredients, and those product lines are profitable pieces of their portfolio.  One look at the success of Kroger’s Simple Truth, “free-from” line demonstrates what a brand can do when it removes additives, GMOs, high fructose corn syrup and more.

Consumers want "free-from" food.  It's not about debating the "how" or the "why" we got here.  It's about meeting her where she stands in the aisle of the grocery store, holding onto a child with diabetes or food allergies, or shopping for parent with cancer.

Everyone is recognizing the need for food free from artificial ingredients.  Panera Bread recently announced that they are pulling these ingredients from their products, Target's Simply Balanced has committed to removing genetically engineered ingredients by the end of 2014, and Kroger is seeing record earnings growth with its Simple Truth product line, free from artificial ingredients and genetically engineered ingredients.  The brand went from $0 to $1 billion in revenue in two years

So if companies that are dumping the junk are being rewarded by both consumers and the stock market, shareholders and stakeholders, what purpose does the Grocery Manufacturers Association serve by getting in the way of that?  Is that in the best interest of its members?

As the Association spends record amounts filing a lawsuit against the state of Vermont which has just taken a big step towards bringing transparency to its food system for its consumers, you have to wonder if this is money well spent for its members.  What if instead, these members decided to leave the organization and start another one, one that truly met their needs in the face of changing consumer demand and the changing health of American consumers.  Or what if some got aggressive and filed a "loss of business" lawsuit against it given the decline that companies like Kellogg’s are seeing in sales and the resulting employee layoffs as they entrench on the GMO labeling issue? 

21st century families want free-from food.  It isn't complicated, and shareholders and stakeholders are rewarding the companies that understand that and are delivering products that meet that need. 

They're not debating the science, they're not filing lawsuits, they are simply meeting us where we stand: in the aisles of the grocery store shopping for the 1 in 3 American children that now has allergies, asthma, ADHD or autism.  They are building a new food economy, becoming icons for the 21st century consumer, making the Grocery Manufacturers Association look like a relic of the 20th century.

The $2.1 trillion food, beverage and consumer packaged goods industry employs 14 million U.S. workers.  As consumers opt out of food loaded with artificial ingredients, demand is growing.  From 2013-2018, demand for organic is expected to grow 14%, but in the United States, less than 1% of farmland is under organic farm management which means that we have to turn to countries like China and Romania for non-GMO or organic food.  We are literally outsourcing that entire economic opportunity.  It is not in the interest of our food companies, our families or our farmers.

If the Grocery Manufacturers Association was true to its mission it would meet the 21st century consumer where she stands, and it would be addressing this supply chain issue for its members.  But it’s not. 

As it stands, it is quickly becoming a relic of the 20th century, opening the door for another industry organization to form.

Can you imagine if Kroger, Target and other retailers joined together to form the Food Production Association whose mission was to build out a clean and safe food system and to secure the supply chain for 21st century families? Instead of channeling member dollars into lawsuits, it could grow the base of US farmland under organic management, so that we don't outsource this economic opportunity for our companies, farmers and country to our trading partners.

Cancer, autism, food allergies and other conditions we are seeing in the health of our loved ones are not “trends,” neither is the demand for transparency.  American consumers have a right to know whether the EPA regulates their corn as a pesticide or not.  Sixty percent of the world’s population has been given that right. 

Imagine an organization for the food industry that actually focused on securing a non GMO supply chain for American companies, rather than fight this shift in consumer demand and outsource this economic opportunity to China and Romania.  Here’s what a logo might look like. It's food for thought.




On the Eve of a Vote for a Fundamental Human Right
Monday, November 03, 2014

If someone had ever suggested that this would be my life's work when I was growing up in Texas, I would have laughed.  As a kid, I wanted to be an architect. I was good at math.  Then I went to business school and made plans to enter the finance industry.  I went to work as an equity analyst on an investment team that managed billions in assets.

When our children got sick, none of it mattered, and I threw myself into protecting the health of children.

The early years of this work were so isolating that I can't think of them and not physically remember how hard it was.  It was stripping.  But quitting wasn't an option.  I had learned information about our food that I couldn't unlearn: mainly, that the United States was one of the only developed countries in the world to introduce new ingredients into its food system without informing its citizens.  I also learned that our American food companies were making their products without these controversial new ingredients for families in other countries. 

I could not unlearn that double standard.  It challenged almost everything that I believed in.

It  redefined friendships, and in that space, friends came into my life that I hope to never lose. 

Fast forward, almost nine years later, and here we are on the eve of an election to label genetically engineered ingredients in our food, led by initiatives in Colorado and Oregon.  Twenty eight states have introduced labeling initiatives.  These collective groups have brought the issue to the public.  An extraordinary national team whose talents reach across industries. 

To be part of such a patriotic and historic movement is inspiring.  

I have no idea how tomorrow is going to shake out.  I have entertained the thought: What if we win?  What if a scrappy, love-fueled campaign can defeat an industry-funded $15 million one?  But I truly believe that no matter what the election results are, we have already won.

We changed the conversation.  A scrappy little, passionate campaign of brilliant minds forced multi-billion dollar corporations to change the way they play.  We captured their shenanigans and highlighted their mistruths.   We called them out when they lied, and we held together as they attacked.  And we had fun.  Perhaps that was the reason that so many people around the country asked: Can I vote on this?  They saw what we were doing and wanted to be part of it.

We heard from moms overseas to dads in California.  People sent material to us, cartoons, videos, and invited us to share our work on their sites.  People we had never met from around the country cheered us on every step of the way.

There was a solidarity in it, a revolutionary patriotism that I have never felt before, and it meant a lot to all of us to be part of it. 

As the campaign comes to a close and we head to the polls, it can't pass without saying thank you.  Thank you to those who have gone before us in California, Washington state, Vermont, Maine and Connecticut.  We would not be where we are today without your work.

Thank you to those around the country and around the world that cheered us on.  

To those that are coming after us, stand on our shoulders.  We will lend our talents and expertise to your campaigns. 

And to the food companies, let the chemical industry stand alone.  You already label genetically engineered ingredients or make your products without them overseas.  It will become increasingly hard to justify your position to your shareholders, because your shareholders have family members battling these conditions, too.

Our country is dealing with record rates of chronic conditions like allergies, autism, diabetes and now cancer.  People want to know what they are eating.  

Perhaps that is why it felt so patriotic: we are not one state fighting for the right to know what is in our food, we are one country.  And as we work towards achieving this fundamental human right that has already been afforded to all of our key trading partners by our very own American companies, we will do it ever mindful of our future here. 

Our children's health is the foundation for the health of our country.  It is in our hands to protect it, and love is a rocket fuel. 

There is nothing more beautiful or patriotic that we could be doing. 

Thank you to everyone around the country and around the world who joined us in this effort. 

Yes on 105.

A Former Federal Scientist Sends An Open Letter to the Minister of Health
Sunday, November 02, 2014

Last week, Dr. Thierry Vrain, a former scientist with the federal government in Canada, reached out after watching an interview I did with Dr. Ray Seidler, a former senior scientist at the EPA. 

Dr. Vrain was the designated spokesperson to assure the public of the safety of GMO crops.  He is an unlikely and powerful crusader to be speaking out about the dangers of these crops.

He was concerned that the interview did not address in detail the toxicity of glyphosate, a synthetic and toxic weedkiller used on genetically engineered crops.

In his work today, Dr. Vrain highlights how glyphosate, the chemical applied to genetically engineered crops was first created by Stauffer Chemicals in 1960 to clean industrial pipes.  It was then patented in 1964 by Monsanto, and in 2010 it was patented as an antibiotic because of  it is a biocide, an agent that kills insects, weeds and gut bacteria.  

After speaking with him today, he asked that I share this letter that he wrote to the Canadian Minister of Health  Canada and the United States are two of the only developed countries in the world that fail to label genetically engineered ingredients in their food supplies.  Sixty-four countries around the world label them, in part because no long term human health studies exist. 

Below, please find Dr. Thierry Vrain's full letter. 

Please read and share.   


October 27, 2014


To the Honorable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health


Re:  herbicide pollution and GMO labeling




The confusion about the safety of GMOs is quite simple to address.  The only GMOs in our agriculture are Glyphosate Modified Organisms also known as RoundUp Ready crops and the only GMOs in our food supply are from those crops.   RoundUp Ready crops are engineered to be sprayed with the herbicide RoundUp and this technology has become so successful that RoundUp has become a major pollutant (1).  This chemical pollution is antibiotic, it impacts the microbiome, impairs CYP enzymes, and depletes food of essential mineral micronutrients.  As a background paper for the impact of this pollution I offer my speaking notes to the American College of Nutrition conference last week in San Antonio (Texas).  Most of the studies I cite were published in the last five years.   


Glyphosate is the active ingredient of the herbicide RoundUp, a new molecule created in 1960 by Stauffer Chemicals - a US company with a business of cleaning industrial pipes and boilers of mineral scales.  The mineral deposits (same as in electric kettles) are called scales, and the pipe cleaning chemicals are called descaling agents.  Glyphosate was patented in 1964 in the US as a powerful and very broad spectrum descaling agent (2).   Meaning, it binds to metals indiscriminately and does a great job at “dissolving and preventing minerals from being reactive or bioavailable in solution”.   When the descaling solution was disposed of in nature, it was obvious that it killed plants.  The chemical company Monsanto promptly bought the molecule, patented it as a herbicide in 1969, and got it commercialized in 1974 (3).  This molecule is making history because glyphosate has become the most successful agricultural chemical in North and South America wherever RR seeds are used.   The farmers using this technology get simpler and cheaper weed management and despite higher input bills and sometimes disappointing yields, and with weed resistance spreading fast, they adopted it in troves (4). 


The herbicide RoundUp had a completely novel chemistry for a herbicide in 1969.   It was deemed to kill plants by bonding to only one protein enzyme in the chloroplasts.   Enzymes are metalloproteins with a metal atom as a cofactor at the active site of the molecule.  Bacteria and plants and fungi share a metalloprotein called EPSPS for short and 5-Enol Pyruvyl Shikimate-3 Phosphate Synthase if you want to know what it does.  It works with other metalloproteins to “make” building blocks of proteins, the aromatic amino acids.   These molecules are also building blocks for a large number of aromatic molecules we call secondary compounds.  Glyphosate binds tightly to the manganese atom at the centre of the EPSPS metalloprotein, so tightly that the protein cannot move and do its work making aromatic amino acids.   No protein synthesis means there is no metabolic work possible, a quick death for the plant, or the fungi or the bacteria. 


Because animals lack the shikimate pathway and because of its presumed mode of killing plants, glyphosate was pronounced innocuous to humans and registered as such in 1974 in the USA.  Glyphosate has no acute toxicity, and at the time of registration in the US and Canada, nobody bothered to check for chronic effects.  Considering the chemical properties of this pollution, one would expect long term chronic effects, equivalent to rickets, scurvy, or beriberi, for progressive lack of micronutrients.  The animal feeding studies proving the safety of GMOs do not include testing for the safety of glyphosate.  None of them mentions the residue levels of glyphosate in the feed.  Meanwhile, a fast growing series of independent studies in various countries published in the last 5 years have ascertained the impact of glyphosate on various cellular enzymes and organs of animals and of human cells.


The first RoundUp Ready crops to be commercialized were soy and corn, released in 1996.   Since then, a handful of RR crops have been adopted enthusiastically by farmers, particularly in North and South America.   Today close to 500 million acres of soya and corn, and cotton, canola, and sugar beet, are engineered to be sprayed with RoundUp.  About 40% of  all RR crops are grown in the USA, most of the rest are grown in Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and a few other countries.  RR crops are now sprayed with close to two billion lbs of glyphosate every year, and so much of that finds its way into animal feed and processed food, that the EPA had to raise the legal residue limits last year to accommodate a new reality (5).   


Glyphosate is antibiotic, a powerful and broad spectrum antibiotic (6).  The mode of kill is again alleged to be very selective.  The glyphosate molecule impairs the functioning of the shikimate pathway in bacteria in the same manner that it does in plants.  Only one enzyme is affected in a pathway that animals do not possess.   The antibiotic patent describes its effectiveness to kill bacteria at 1 ppm and this was confirmed last year in Germany (7).   At this point I usually spend a minute or two explaining why a low level antibiotic diet is not a good idea.  I describe the recent interest of the medical field in a large joint research project involving many Universities to decipher the huge community of thousands of species of bacteria that call us home.  The Human Microbiome project is the equivalent of the Human Genome project in its scope.   We are vastly outnumbered, roughly ten to one – one hundred trillion bacterial cells call our lower intestine home.  They are forever sending signaling molecules to each other and to all human organs, particularly the brain.  All animals depend on their symbiosis with these bacteria, and humans are no exception.   They are the teachers of our immune system, they make the neurotransmitters for our brain, and have a strong connection to the heart and the whole digestive tract.   They literally feed us all kinds of molecules that we require - we call them essential, like vitamins and such.  They digest and recycle most of our food.   Human organs rely on molecular signals from the microbiome for normal functioning, and as goes the microbiome so does its human shell.  A recent review of the medical literature on celiac and other diseases shows the link to imbalances of the microbiome that are fully explained by the antibiotic properties of glyphosate (8).   


We lack official data on residues of glyphosate in food or in water in Canada – no epidemiological studies of any kind have ever been done.  All we have are the legal maximum residue limits now allowed by the EPA in RoundUp Ready foods, cereals 30 ppm, animal feed 100 ppm, soybean 120 ppm, and everything else in between (5).   Here an inquisitive mind will ask why such a high residue limit for cereals when none of them are engineered to be sprayed with RoundUp.  This is when you learn that RoundUp is sprayed on many non-engineered crops with the intent to kill them right before harvest.  This is done to mature and dry the crops quickly to make them easier and cheaper to harvest.   The RoundUp herbicide has been used as a desiccant for the last 10 years.


There is direct toxicity to animal cells because glyphosate binds to metals indiscriminately, and not just in plant cells.  It binds to metals in solution and to metal co-factors at the centre of metalloproteins anywhere.   For example glyphosate binds to the iron atom at the centre of a large family of protein enzymes called CYP.  There are 57 different CYP enzymes in the human body, and approximately 20,000 in animals, plants, bacteria and fungi.  The CYP enzymes are oxidizers, the first line of digestion and detoxification of most substrates.  David Nelson writes in a review of the CYP enzymes: “The CYP enzymes of humans are essential for our normal physiology and failure of some of these enzymes results in serious illnesses (9).   Samsel and Seneff have published a review of the impact of glyphosate on the CYP enzymes and the microbiome.   They suggest that glyphosate’s suppression of CYP enzymes and its antibiotic effect on the human microbiome are involved in the etiology of the many chronic degenerative and inflammatory diseases that have grown to epidemic levels since the advent of the RoundUp Ready technology (10).


Nancy Swanson has made public her statistical analyses of the US Centre for Disease Control’s statistics about the health status of America when placed next to the statistics of the US Department of Agriculture about the spread of RoundUp Ready soy and corn.  Her correlation analyses show very high coefficient values suggesting strong links between glyphosate residues in RoundUp Ready food and chronic illnesses (11).  


Medical and chemical reviews and peer reviewed studies have explained the mode of action of glyphosate and its impact on many metalloproteins.   Human cell studies have shown acute toxicity (12-15) and animal studies have shown chronic toxicity (16-21).   Glyphosate bio-accumulates in the plants and in animals that eat the plants.   It accumulates in the lungs, the heart, kidneys, intestine, liver, spleen, muscles, and bones … and chronically ill people have higher residues in their urine than healthy people.”(22)



To conclude this presentation of the nutritional status of GMOs, I would say that crops sprayed with RoundUp, whether they are RoundUp Ready or not, contain residues of glyphosate, and that foods made from these crops are depleted of the minerals that are bound to the glyphosate molecules, and chronically toxic (23).   


Minister, your reassuring words have been quoted widely.  “Currently, there is no… scientific evidence, that says genetically modified foods are unhealthy. It is impossible for us to mandate a label, because our labels have to be based on evidence that it is an unhealthy product for Canadians.”  I hope you have found here the scientific evidence you require to act and that you join over 60 governments in the world who have found this evidence compelling enough in the past few years, to legislate some form of labeling or ban RoundUp Ready crops and the herbicide RoundUp.




Dr. Thierry Vrain




Literature cited


1 Battaglin W.A., Meyer M.T., Kuivila K.M., Dietze J.E.  2014. Glyphosate and its degradation product AMPA occur frequently and widely in US soils, surface water, groundwater, and precipitation.  J. Amer. Water Res. Assoc. 50, 275-290.


2 U.S. Patent  3,160,632 Stauffer Chemicals 1964


3 US Patent 3,455,675 Monsanto Chemicals 1969


4 Fernandez-Cornejo J., Wechsler S.J., Livingston M. and Mitchell L.  2014.  Genetically Engineered crops in the United States.  USDA Economic Research Report No. (ERR-162) 60 pp.   http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1282246/err162.pdf


5 EPA 2013 MCL (US Environment Protection Agency legal Maximum Contaminant Levels). http://www.epa.gov/ogwdw/pdfs/factsheets/soc/glyphosa.pdf


6 U.S. Patent Number 7,771,736  Monsanto Chemicals 2010.


7 Shehata, A.A., Schrödl, W., Aldin, A.A., Hafez, H.M. and Krüger, M.   2013. The effect of Glyphosate on potential pathogens and beneficial members of poultry microbiota. Curr. Microbiol. 66:350-358.


8 Samsel, A. and Seneff, S.  2013.  Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II.  Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdiscip. Toxicol. 6: 159-184

9 Nelson, D.  2013. A world of cytochrome P450s. Philo. Transac. Royal Soc. London B 368 No 1612.


10 Samsel, A. and Seneff, S.  2013. Glyphosate’s suppression of cytochrome P450 enzymes and amino acid biosynthesis by the gut microbiome: pathways to modern diseases. Entropy 15: 1416-1463.


11 http://www.examiner.com/gmo-in-seattle/nancy-swanson


12 Gasnier, C., Dumont, C., Benachour, N., Clair, E., Chagnon, M.C. and Séralini, G.E. 2009.  Glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and endocrine disruptors in human cell lines. Toxicology 262: 184-191.


13 Benachour N. and Seralini, G.E.  2009.  Glyphosate induces  apoptosis in human umbilical, embryonic, and placental cells. Chem. Res. Toxicol. 22: 97-105.


14 Koller, V.G., Fürhacker, M., Nersesyan, A., Mišík, M., Eisenbauer, M. and Knasmueller, S.  2012.  Cytotoxic and DNA-damaging properties of glyphosate and Roundup in human-derived buccal epithelial cells. Arch. Toxicol. 86: 805-813.


15 Thongprakaisang, S., Thiantanawat, A., Rangkadilok, N., Suriyo, T. and Satayavivad, J. 2013. Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cell growth via estrogen receptors. Food Chem. Toxicol. 59: 129-136.


16 Senapati ,T., Mukerjee, A.K. and Ghosh, A.R. 2009. Observations on the effect of glyphosate based herbicide on ultrastructure (SEM) and enzymatic activity in different regions of alimentary canal and gill of Channa punctatus (Bloch). J. Crop  Weed 5: 236-245.


17 Paganelli, A.,  Gnazzo, V.,  Acosta, H.,  López, S.L. and Carrasco, A.E. 2010. Glyphosate herbicides produce teratogenic effects on vertebrates by impairing retinoic acid signaling. Chem. Res. Toxicol. 23: 1586-1595.


18 Vecchio, L., Cisterna, B., Malatesta, M., Martin, T.E. and Biggiogera, M. 2004. Ultrastructural analysis of testes from mice fed on genetically modified soybean.  Eur. J. Histochem. 48:448-454.


19 El-Shamei, Z.S.; Gab-Alla, A.A.; Shatta, A.A.; Moussa, E.A.; Rayan, A.M.  2012. Histopathological changes in some organs of male rats fed on genetically modified corn.  J. Am. Sci. 8: 684-696.


20 Séralini, G.E., Clair, E., Mesnage, R., Gress, S., Defarge, N.,  Malatesta, M., Hennequin, D. and de Vendômois, J.S.  2014. Republished study: Long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Environ. Sci. Eur. 26:14 


21 Clair. E, Mesnage, R., Travert, C. and Séralini, G.É. 2012. A glyphosate-based herbicide induces necrosis and apoptosis in mature rat testicular cells in vitro, and testosterone decrease at lower levels. Toxicol. in Vitro 26: 269-279.

22 Kruger, M., Schledorn, P., Schrodl, W., Hoppe, H.W., Lutz, W. and Shehata, A.A.  2014. Detection of glyphosate residues in animals and humans. Environ. & Anal. Toxicol. 4:2

23 Zobiole, L.H., Kremer, R.J., de Oliveira, R.S. and Constantin, J. 2012. Glyphosate effects on photosynthesis, nutrient accumulation, and nodulation in glyphosate-resistant soybean.  J. Plant Nutri. Soil Sci. 175: 319






Michael Franti, Food and Love
Thursday, October 30, 2014

This morning, I attended Summit 3.0, a business conference designed to inspire people and organizations to become the best version of themselves that they can be. 

The day started with music.  Michael Franti took the stage. 

It was just Michael and his guitar.  His bare feet resting gently on the stage. "I have a new song," he said.  "It's not on any album...." And he began to sing...

"Everybody ought to hug somebody....at least once a day.  Everybody needs to kiss somebody.....to love somebody at least once a day." 

It was 9am.  No one cared. He had everyone singing.  

Didn't our days start with singing when we were little? It opened people up.

Love is a rocket fuel.  It comes in all shapes and sizes, and the crowd loved it.  I thought about all of the people that I love, and how love has seen so many of us through this work.  His words rang so true.

When he finished, John Mackey, the co-CEO of Whole Foods, was introduced.  It felt full circle. I remember two speakers from business school back in the 1990s: John Mackey and one of the founders of Compaq Computers. 

Mackey's talk was about the evolution of humanity, enlightenment, nothing to do with food. He shared personal anecdotes and a story about how his mother told him back in 1987 when she was dying that she wish he'd go back to school and get his college degree.  He never did.  She died never knowing the contribution he made to the world, to clean food, to the conversations we now have today.   "She died thinking I was a failure," he said. 

And he spoke about the types of mindsets, people, "memes" was the word that he used.

I thought about how our lives unfold in chapters.  We are such creative designs ourselves, each a very unique work of art in progress.

Mackey's talk began with Maslow's hierarchy of needs: food, water, shelter, intimacy, and he took it up the pyramid from there.  Each stage or "wave" of this evolution had a color to it.....blue, purple, orange, green.  What he got to was that in the end, there is no judgement of where anyone is in the process.  There is just love-inspired work driving us to solutions that will serve humanity.  Conscious integration. 

It was big stuff, and I then I thought: How many people think about this?  We get so busy, so caught up.  The burden can be heavy.  Maybe it's self-imposed in some cases, the treadmill we put ourselves on because we think we don't have the right house, car, clothes, that we are not "enough."  But in some cases, the burden is heavy just because it's the hand we've been dealt. And if these anchors are tied around our feet, anchors like disease, joblessness, heartache, can we reach for the stars?

And I thought about the work we do every day to help people believe in their own unique abilities to create change.  We are here because we are a unique design.  No one else on the planet has the combination or heart, mind and skills that each one of us possess.  No one else has our story.  "What if we are not enough?" we think. 

But what if, together, we are?

Towards his conclusion, Mackey said, "When fear leaves, love takes its place." It hung in the air. I wrote it down. 

I wish Franti would have taken the stage again. 

Fear and love. It keeps coming back in my life, like a rhythm. 

They don't mix.  Like oil and water.  They don't co-exist.  And I thought about the struggles that we've seen, the fears, the "what-ifs".  I thought about the fear I felt, the intimidation, the hurdles.

In the end, I couldn't wait for the fear to leave. There wasn't time. So I chose to love.  I was afraid that it would hurt, but love is more powerful than fear.   

And when you love without hesitation, you will find that that is where your strength lies, and together, we will change the world.

Love is a rocket fuel, and it is time to rise up. 

A Mom's Legacy
Friday, October 17, 2014

I wrote a letter to a friend's mom just before she died.  I  never met her and wanted to thank her. 

I never got the chance.  I hesitated on sending it, wondering if it would look stupid.  She died just four days later. 

I talk a lot about finding a friend as you step into this work.  And this particular mom had given me a great one.

We met in 2010 when a friend introduced us to talk about food.  It was an immediate friendship.    

Flash forward about four and a half years, and there we were standing in front of a crowd of parents talking about our food, families and our fundamental human right to know what is going into the food we feed our loved ones. We were talking about a ballot initiative, #Yeson105, in Colorado to label genetically engineered ingredients in our food.

I couldn't help but think of everything we'd seen in our work together.  My heart gets too big for my chest sometimes, and it makes my eyes leak.  I was told not to make it a kumbaya thing.

As we stood in front of the Colorado Moms for Labeling group, we discussed how as Americans we haven't been told that our food now contains genetically engineered ingredients designed to withstand chemicals like the weedkiller Roundup.  64 countries around the world have been given this information.  We haven't. It is a fundamental human right, an American thing, a civil rights thing.

But it is also a love thing.  The reason that it hurts so much to learn this - that ingredients have been hidden in our food while American companies label them for families in other countries - is because we are losing loved ones to conditions like cancer, diabetes or food allergies, and there is grief.  You want to hit it away. But you can't, because underneath the grief is love. It is a rocket fuel. 

You could see it in the meeting. You could feel it.  It was what had brought us together.  It had been an invitation to moms that day, but dads were there, babies, little ones and others.

And again, as I listened to this friend talk, I looked out at those in front of us, knowing what they had been through, their courage and what brought us together - this love we have for our families and country.

And as we packed everything away that day, I thought of my friend's mom. 

What I'd wanted to tell her was "Thank you.  Thank you for raising such an awesome son.  Someone brilliant and strong who gives his heart and talent to this work to make the world a better place. Thank you for giving me such an incredible friend."

As we do this work, all of us, in memory of those that we love - moms, friends who have lost little ones, and others that I never met like Emily, Giovanni, Roman, Debbie and so many more - it reminds me every day that love is more powerful than fear. 

We see it here in Colorado, around the country and around the world, as we work to Vote Yes on 105, Yes on 92 and www.justlabelit.org.

Love is such a rocket fuel.  We are only here once.  Be brave.  It will be our legacy.


Written in memory of Dixie.

A 14 Year Old Boy's Life and Why Labels Matter
Monday, October 06, 2014

On October 1, 2013, a 14 year old boy had an allergic reaction that would take his life.  I recently sat down with his mother. 

 Please meet my beautiful friend, Georgina. Her story is below:

"When Giovanni was around 18 months old, I made chicken with a peanut sauce. After one bite, Giovanni began to get hives, his eyes swelled…. I called our pediatrician, who told me to give Giovanni a dose of antihistamine and bring him in. Once there, our pediatrician said Giovanni must be allergic to peanuts and advised me to keep an eye on him and to give him antihistamine as directed. His symptoms did not get any worse that day, and we left with a referral to an allergist.

After going to the allergist, Giovanni was diagnosed with allergy to peanuts and other things. I remember the nurse giving me a prescription for antihistamines and an epinephrine auto-injector and showing me how to use it in case of an emergency. I wasn’t given a food allergy management plan. I don’t remember there being any sense of this as a life-or-death situation – just a diagnosis, prescriptions, and the recommendation that we follow up with our pediatrician.

So from then on, that is what I did. Giovanni’s pediatrician was his “go to” doctor for everything. When we asked about seeing a specialist, our pediatrician stated that he would treat Giovanni first.

Giovanni had a few allergic reactions to peanuts. We never thought these reactions were severe. He would usually vomit, get some hives, and have a bit of scratchy or tingly throat. After a dose of antihistamine, symptoms seemed to calm down and go away on their own. Thinking back, these reactions would be considered anaphylaxis, and were severe.

I followed up with the pediatrician, who said I should give Giovanni antihistamine since his reactions were mild, and he should be okay. We were never told that epinephrine must be used for certain symptoms, only that it could be used if we really thought he needed it. But, since he never had a bad reaction, I didn’t think he needed it.  That was the extent of our anaphylaxis management planning.

A Severe Reaction

On October 1, 2013, Giovanni and I were settling in early, happy that homework was finally done early, dinner and chores were done, and we were going to be able to enjoy movie night together – just him and me – for the first time in a while since school had started. Giovanni had just started at Holy Trinity High School, so homework, studying, and sports left little time for relaxing and leisure. We popped the movie in and had our snacks ready. One was a snack mix of mini cookies, pretzels, almonds, and M&M’s. I usually always bypass the full food label and go right to the bottom of the ingredients where they usually have an allergy disclaimer. I had read the back of the bag, and all I saw was “MAY CONTAIN TREE NUTS.” Good, I thought, he is not allergic to tree nuts.

I gave Giovanni a few pieces of snack mix from the bag, but within seconds he was saying, “Oh no, there are peanuts in here!” I said he was wrong and read the ingredients again. Although there was no “peanut” disclaimer, it did actually have peanuts as a main ingredient. I just didn’t read enough! I don’t know how in the world I didn’t see it.

I immediately gave Giovanni a regular dose of antihistamine and said we should go to Premier Care, the after-hours clinic, just to be safe. Then I gave him a second dose of antihistamine just as back up. Giovanni was only feeling a little scratchiness in his throat and was giving me a hard time about getting dressed to go to clinic.

At this point, I should have called 9-1-1.

I said let’s go now, just to be safe. The epinephrine auto-injector was on the table right next to my purse, and Giovanni asked if he should use it. I said I didn’t think we needed to, that we should just get to the doctor. I threw all the meds into my bag and left. On the way out, Giovanni asked if he should vomit, since that is usually what happened in the past. I said if you need to then try, but he couldn’t.

Premier Care is about a seven-minute car ride away. Giovanni was still talking on the drive there. He had his inhaler with him and used it a few times. I kept telling him not be nervous, that he was going to be okay. We got to the office, and it had JUST closed. No one answered the door. Giovanni began to panic. We jumped back in the car and immediately started to look for the epinephrine auto-injector. We couldn’t find it.

At this point, he was still okay. He was still talking, just more scared now. I still was thinking we were okay. Now I had to drive to the emergency room, which was about another seven minutes away. All I could do was focus on getting there without crashing, I was beeping my horn and had my hazard lights on, taking every red light I could safely run and reassuring him every minute that he was going to be okay, that we were almost there, to just hold on another minute.

We were around the corner from the hospital when Giovanni must have felt something serious, and he said, “I can’t mom, I don’t want to die.” I was yelling, “No! No! That’s not going to happen. We’re here. Just hold on. I’m there in two seconds.” He didn’t respond.

I turned down the street to the emergency room and realized he was quiet. I grabbed his hand and said we’re here, but I realized he was cold. I looked at him, and he was blue. I started screaming and beeping as I drove to the emergency room entrance. There were people outside and I was screaming, “Help, my son has peanut allergy. He passed out. I need to get him inside!” They all ran over, and I remember about five of us struggling to get him out of the car. At the same time, emergency room staff came running out with a wheelchair, and we threw him in it. I was just screaming, “Help him, please! He is having an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts.”

Staff were running through hallway, yelling “We need a table now!” as I ran behind screaming “Please, help him!” That was the longest hallway ever. Then these nurses stopped me and took me into a small room while they took Giovanni away, and I had to wait and wait and wait. I had called my husband when we were leaving the house and told him what was happening and that Giovanni was okay. Now I had to call and tell him to get to the ER right away.

It was nearly an hour later when a doctor came out to brief us. She told me how they worked on Giovanni for quite a while, that his heart had stopped and that he had been without oxygen for about 3 minutes, but that they were able to save him. They told me he was on a respirator. I was finally able to see him. He was unconscious and needed to be transported to a pediatric ICU.

Giovanni was in a medically induced coma for several days in hopes of alleviating the trauma caused to his brain from lack of oxygen, but he got worse when they tried to bring him out of the coma. Doctors re-induced him into the coma in hopes that he would recover. But after three weeks of exhausting all measures to try to save him – after many hopes and prayers – Giovanni’s body just couldn’t sustain the injury to his brain, and he passed away on October 18.

I am grateful that I was able to hold my little boy in his bed, along with his dad and his sister, and was surrounded by every one of his closest family members, every one of them holding hands, holding each other up, while he crossed over to finally be in peace.

Lessons Learned

His physician was our pediatrician for more than 20 years.  He didn't take his allergies serious because he wasn't educated enough about them.   When I called him from the emergency room to tell him we are in the er and why, he just said that there wasn't anything to do, that the hospital doctors would be the one taking care of him.  

The next time I heard from him was 10 minutes after Giovanni had passed away.   My cousin had answered the phone, he was calling to see how he was.   And didn't really have anything to say.   He never called, did not send a card, did not come to his funeral nothing.   I still can't believe it.  

The night of his accident we were to be picked up from other hospital he needed to be transferred to hospital With PICU unit, the head nurse from this other hospital was (unbeknownst at the time) sent to be his angel, our angel.  She told us she had just gotten back from an all day conference on food allergies and EpiPen importance.   I have kept in contact with her and just the other day called on her to help me figure out how I can reach out to the entire medical field, re: American pediatric association. I am trying to figure out the best way to reach them to express the importance of global change of education to all physicians, nurses, ems, to follow one basic protocol when administering life saving information about food allergies.  

Giovanni’s Legacy

When I asked Giovanni’s mom to tell me about her son, the sports he played and his friends, this is what she shared:

“He was such a beautiful boy.   So loving, caring, helpful.   Loved life.   He is so very much missed by all.   His sister is all alone without him.   His friends loved him so much.   They still contact me from time to time to see how we are. 

The one thing that is consistent when they speak of him is how beautiful his smile was, how he was so happy, always goofing off, making everyone laugh; he knew if you were having a bad day he would ask if you were ok and find a way to make you feel better.  

Giovanni had just started high school at a private school, it was a big change for him but he loved it.  EVERY single student in that school came to his wake/funeral. They all told us what an amazing kid he was, so many said even though they didn't get a chance to actually speak to him they remember his infectious smile and that he was always making someone laugh.  

Giovanni was an amazing athlete.  Since the age of 5 he was playing baseball, soccer, football, basketball.   His first love was football but a few years ago decided that baseball would be his career.   He was known everywhere he went.   Everyone wanted him on his or her team.  

Right before the accident he had just gotten back from a travel team tournament that weekend.   He was going to be a major league player no doubt.  He was an honor student.   A best friend, his father's pride and joy, he was my whole life.   He was my Protector, my son, My friend, my SOULMATE!  

Communities from so many Towns have come together to remember Giovanni.   In the town where dad is from, Our Lady of Peace school, one mom who has a food allergic child and is on the board had their food allergy policy revamped and dedicated to Giovanni.  When Giovanni was in school at all times his friends/teachers all were very cautious and mindful of his allergies.   His two very best friends were also allergic to peanuts /nuts and some other things as well so it was always a comfort knowing that he would be safe with them.  

There was always a smile on his face. He was running from the time he woke up to the time he went to sleep. And even when he was sleeping he was still a restless sleeper. He was a star athlete. He was a best friend. He was the best brother. He was my little boy, my little man. He took care of me, and I took care of him. He was my friend, my partner. He was the reason I did EVERYTHING I did. He was his dad’s pride and joy. His dad is lost without him. He was an honor student. He knew to be helpful, to be of service, to be respectful. He knew how to seize the day and run with it.

Giovanni’s loss is felt not just here in our family, in our community, but all over the country. Giovanni’s loss is awful, it is heart wrenching, it doesn’t make sense. If it has taught us one thing, it is that we know we don’t want anyone to ever have to feel the pain that we feel.

What Do You Want People to Know?

We want to help educate and advocate for all families living with food allergies. We want everyone to know that food allergies are serious. Some people think it’s not that big of a deal, that food allergy parents tend to overreact, and for the simple and lucky reason it hasn’t yet affected them.

"How many more lives need to be lost to prove it is a big deal?"

Food allergies can mean life or death. In the past two months, it has become apparent just how true that statement is. Two more little lives have been taken in our community due to a peanut allergy. More people need to be informed about the dangers of food allergy, including healthcare professionals and parents. If you have a food allergic child, seek consultation with a board certified allergist who has expertise in food allergy. Allergist evaluation and periodic routine follow up are recommended steps in the NIH food allergy guidelines for caring for food allergic children. It is important to do your own research and be your own advocate. Find the very best doctor you can, and even if he’s a little farther away, it may be worth it to go those extra miles.  If you advocate for your child and do the research, it is possible that you may be able to help your doctor form the best treatment plan possible for your child. If you are not happy with the treatment or feedback, then find a new doctor. Do not settle!  If you reach a point where you are not comfortable with just your primary care physician managing your child’s food allergy, then you have to have a frank discussion with this provider about your desire to involve a food allergy expert in the care. 

Know the Signs and Symptoms

The most important information we want everyone to know is that when there are signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis, administer your epinephrine auto-injector (such as an Auvi-Q or Epi-Pen). This is the first line of treatment for anaphylaxis! Always have your epinephrine auto-injectors available. It is wise to have two doses available because some people may need a second dose. Do not hesitate to use this when it is needed! It can save a life. Epinephrine use has virtually no downsides or bad side effects beyond increasing the heart rate and blood pressure, and possibly causing some temporary bruising and pain where the device was injected. Most importantly, make sure you have a written anaphylaxis management plan provided by whoever is managing your child’s food allergy. This must be reviewed until you know it like the back of your hand, and you are comfortable with the steps. The physician creating this plan must be able to clearly explain to you what symptoms require antihistamine, and what other ones can only be treated with epinephrine.  It is your responsibility to master this plan, and be ready to act should the need arise.

If you should have to treat your child with epinephrine, call 9-1-1! Call your local ambulance service and tell them that a child is having an allergic reaction and may need more epinephrine. (An ambulance should be called not because epinephrine is dangerous but because the allergic reaction could be severe, needed to be treated with epinephrine, and may require more treatment).  Even if you are unsure if your child needs the epinephrine, don’t hesitate. Don’t let fear take over. It won’t harm your child if it turns out not to be needed, but it will harm your child if you don’t use it, and it was needed!

You have some incredible goals. Will you share them?

I have many goals to conquer but educating people about this is at the top of my list And I will be heard if it's the last thing that I do. Thank you for listening.

Important Resources:

 “May contain” labels on our food packaging are voluntary.  The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) was passed by Congress to ensure that there would be clearer labeling of food for the millions of people with food allergies. As of January 01, 2006, all food products regulated by the FDA must be labeled in a specific way to identify the eight major food allergens, but there are exemptions and loopholes

It is painfully clear that not enough parents are aware of these exemptions and voluntary labels.   To learn more, please click here.

Read the ingredient list and label all the way through. Do not rely on the “May Contain….” or “Contains….” statements at the bottom of the ingredient list.  It is a voluntary statement and not required under the food allergy labeling law. 

To learn more about the sign and symptoms of food allergies, please click here.

To learn more about the Food Allergy Labeling and Protection Act and what is voluntary and how to protect your loved ones, please click here.

To read Giovanni’s full story, please click here.

To help prevent another food allergy death, please share this. 

A Food Fight of Epic Proportions
Thursday, September 25, 2014

About a month ago, I was asked if I would represent Colorado’s Right to Know campaign to label genetically engineered foods in a televised debate against the opposition. 

I wanted to say no.  This work pulls me out of my comfort zone, I do things I am afraid to do.  I have never done a televised debate, despite being invited to debate Monsanto a few years ago at a conference in Chicago. 

When I agreed to that one, I packed the kids’ lunches at 4am that morning to catch a flight to Chicago.  When I got to the conference, the organizer informed me that Monsanto would not be coming.  “You have a room full of commodity farmers who grow Monsanto’s crops and an hour and a half to fill,” I was told. 

I took a breath and walked into the room, “Welcome to the Lion’s Den” one of the farmers said, and so that hour and half began (the story is told here).

The second time I was asked to debate the opposition was when my friend, Bettina Siegel, launched her petition to get “pink slime” out of our hamburger meat.  I was contacted by CNBC to debate the National Cattleman’s Association. I wanted to say no, I had worked straight through spring break, and we were spending the last few days with my parents in Houston.  CNBC pressed, others, too, so I borrowed a jacket from my mom and went to the studio.  Ten minutes before we were supposed to go live, the producer called, apologizing, saying that the other side wouldn’t appear. 

The most recent invitation came this summer, when I was asked if I would debate the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) on labeling genetically engineered foods.  I said yes, committed to the date, only to learn a few days before the actual event that the GMA would not come.

I was not surprised.  Disappointed? Yes.  There are people inside of companies inside of the GMA who truly want to do the right thing.  These conversations are critical. Not showing up is no longer in the best interest of their members. 

So when I was asked to represent the pro-labeling campaign in Colorado on a televised debate, I wanted to say no, knowing they’d pull another fast one, but I couldn’t.  This work pulls me out of my comfort zone, I do things I am afraid to do.  Love is more powerful than fear, so I said yes.

I am not paid by the campaign to do this. I do the work as a mother of four. I volunteer my time for organizations working on this issue at the state level, the national level and the global level. It is my life’s work. 

I was to debate Don Shawcroft, the head of the Colorado Farm Bureau and a Colorado rancher.  He would represent the anti-labeling side. 

I am named after a farmer.  She is my godmother. She lost her husband when she was in her 40s, then turned around and battled cancer in one of her children and then breast cancer herself.  I don’t care what side of the food aisle you are on.  Farmers have fed our country since its inception.  Colorado farmers have fed our state for generations. You honor that.  I was looking forward to the dialogue.

Our debate was scheduled for Wednesday, September 24 in Colorado.  A Colorado mom debating a Colorado farmer on a Colorado state initiative.

 It didn’t happen. 

When the opposition learned that I would be representing the campaign, they put the farmer in the corner and flew in an industry spokesperson name Dana Bieber from Seattle.

Nobody puts farmers in the corner.  I don’t care what side of the food aisle you are on.  We wouldn’t be here without them.  It was a bad decision.

Ms. Bieber is a pro.  It was obvious.  The work that she did as the Campaign Communications Director in Seattle last year and the work that she is now doing as the spokesperson for the anti-labeling campaign in Oregon is that of a professional.   She disclosed who was funding her work in Washington state on a call made to thousands of voters: “Monsanto Company, DuPont Pioneer, Dow Agrosciences, LLC and Bayer Crop Science” and the Grocery Manufacturers Association." You can listen here....

Here in Colorado, the anti-labeling opposition has been funded, so far, by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto, Pepsi, Smuckers.  A slightly different list, disclosed by campaign finance reports. 

Colorado state law requires that only one issue is addressed per amendment title which means not everything for human consumption can be written into this bill. 

A spokesperson from another state who does not vote here may not know that. 

Is that perfect?  No.  The state law would have to be changed.

It is a reasonable starting point.  Just as 35 bills around the country in 20 states are reasonable starting points.  In the absence of any meaningful legislation coming out of D.C., states around the country are taking this initiative into their own hands.  It’s how democracy works.  

It’s not the first time we’ve seen this. 

A great example of states taking the initiative on legislation is the fact that states are largely responsible for seat belt legislation.  The first seat belt law was introduced in New York in 1984.  States around the country followed. We still don’t have a mandatory, national seat belt law.  It’s regulated at the state level.

What these state labeling initiatives are doing is putting pressure on food manufactures to join the 21st century and 64 countries around the world and label genetically engineered ingredients in their products.   American food companies provide this information to families in other countries but hide it from families here. 

The fastest answer would be through the marketplace, and the agitation at the state level is creating activation in the food industry. 

We could be waiting years for mandatory national labeling.  Consumers know that.  Nobody is holding his or her breath on much of anything out of D.C.

We label if our milk is pasteurized and if orange juice comes from concentrate.  We label allergen content, fat, protein and sugar content.  American companies label genetically engineered content in the foods that they sell overseas, so that families can make an informed choice about the fact that corn now found in our food supply is regulated by the EPA as a pesticide (EPA source).

But for a spokesperson to claim to Colorado voters, "Let them eat chemicals!"  before jumping on a flight back home? I appreciate the spokesperson actually flying in and the person who approved, funded and accommodated the last minute request, but they can pack that up and take it home with them. It’s backward looking policy that would not only set Colorado back 20 years but also our country.

U.S. trading partners label genetically engineered ingredients.  The cost to our farmers and to our global trade is too great to continue to pretend that 20 year old policy is in the best interest of farmers, families and food companies. 

Anti-labeling policy is only in the best interest of the chemical companies who would have to be accountable to their products if they were labeled, and industry-funded spokesmen defending them.

Labeling genetically engineered ingredients has not caused economic ruin in other countries, nor for our own U.S. food companies labeling these ingredients overseas.  It has not driven up food prices, nor caused economic collapse for farmers.  It has simply given citizens the ability to make an informed choice about what they are feeding their families. 

It is not only insulting for American food companies to label genetically engineered ingredients (now regulated as pesticides by the EPA) on their products in other countries for families overseas, while hiding that information from American families, it is a violation of a fundamental human right.

"Let them eat pesticides.....?"

Not on our watch. 

Patriotism begins with the plate.  It is time for American food companies to label these ingredients here.



The Great Granddaughter of General Mills' Co-Founder Speaks Out
Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Today, at General Mills shareholder meeting, something remarkable happened.  And if it doesn't speak to the changing food landscape in the U.S., I don't know what does. 

Shareholders were set to vote on an initiative calling for the removal of genetically engineered ingredients from all General Mills' products.  Even though General Mills announced that they would be removing genetically engineered ingredients from Cheerios earlier this year, the measure did not look likely to pass.

All eyes were on the vote, though, especially in the aftermath of the announcement that General Mills was acquiring Annie's Homegrown.

So what happened?  The great granddaughter of the co-founder of General Mills spoke up.

"As a proud stockholder, I am concerned about our reputation as a company that uses genetically modified organisms," Harriett Crosby told the annual meeting crowd.

"I think we can do better and improve our brand and the value of General Mills by eliminating GMOs from our products."

Crosby cited one irrefutable truth about GMOs: General Mills already produces GMO-free versions of its products in Europe and parts of Asia and already labels them in 63 countries around the worldl.

So, Crosby asked, "Why not here?"

Why not here? 

American food companies already label genetically engineered ingredients or make their products without them in Europe, Asia and 64 countries around the world. They are doing it for all of our key U.S. trading partners and the families that live in those countries, but they are hiding these ingredients from families in the United States.

More than 100 scientific and public health institutions around the world support GMO labeling to track potential allergic reactions. The United Nation and the World Health Organizations' food standards group and the American Medical Association have called for mandatory safety testing – a standard that  the U.S. currently fails to meet.

General Mills already labels these ingredients in their products that they sell overseas. 

For the company to continue to take an anti-labeling position on this changing landscape of health and consumer demand, while holding the opposite position overseas, is not in the best interest of shareholders. It's a double standard.

Anti-labeling initiatives could significantly hinder the company for years, as well as stifle the expansion of jobs and the economy in Minneapolis and the U.S., as other companies and our trading partners seize the opportunity to meet this change in consumer demand.  The anti-labeling initiatives would directly impact a family’s ability to make an informed choice when it comes to feeding their loved ones.  It would continue to keep American farmers in the dark, withholding from them the data and insight that labeling these ingredients would provide. 

As Ms. Crosby said, General Mills is already required to produce GMO-free varieties of its products in Europe and parts of Asia....

They already label these ingredients around the world.  Why not here?

Her call to action would ensure that General Mills meets the needs of the 21st century consumer, consumers looking for products that are "free-from" artificial ingredients, artificial dyes and GMOs.  If General Mills' recent acquisition of Annie's is any indication, they already know what those changing needs are. 

Ms. Crosby's concern is being echoed around the country, with 35 bills introduced in 20 states, asking for genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled.  By failing to address it, General Mills runs the risk of being remembered as an iconic brand from the 20th century that failed to meet the changing needs of the 21st century consumer. 

It is a risk too great for the co-founder's great granddaughter to take, so she spoke out.

The company was listening:  "General Mills will not eliminate ingredients made from genetically modified organisms anytime soon, but CEO Ken Powell said the company strongly supports labeling foods that contain them."

The landscape of food is changing, and the company that moves first will capture the hearts of families around the country.  They need look no further than Chipotle to see how meeting the needs of 21st century families can reward shareholders and spoonholders alike.

What the Annie's Acquisition Means to Shareholders and Spoonholders
Thursday, September 11, 2014

The announcement that General Mills would acquire Annie's Homegrown sent the food world spinning.

There was an allergic reaction, and within hours of sharing the news, Annie's Facebook page had over 9,000 comments. 

To consumers, it was an emotional grenade.

As I dug into the announcement, the first email that I sent was to Annie herself, the mother who started the company 25 years ago. She quickly replied.

When Annie started the company, genetically engineered ingredients were not even in our food supply. She simply formulated a mac and cheese product for her kids that wasn't loaded with junk.

Could she have anticipated this?  Not at all.

John Foraker, Annie's CEO, the dad of four responsible for overseeing the growth of the company and for taking it public in 2012 with one of my all time favorite ticker symbols, BNNY, also responded:


And in one swift motion, the landscape of food had changed. 

No one could have anticipated food ingredients designed by chemical companies that have been genetically engineered to produce their own insecticides. Nor could the industry have anticipated this food awakening, driven by the escalating rates of diseases and conditions like cancer, autism and food allergies and other conditions impacting the health of the people that we love.

Food allergies in our children are forcing us to read labels, as quickly as cancer diagnoses are forcing the same.  No one would choose to be standing in the aisles of the grocery store, holding the hand of a child with food allergies or autism or managing a parent's cancer diagnosis, yet that is where so many of us find ourselves today. We are being forced to read labels to protect the health of our loved ones, whether we want to read them or not.  And sales of organic foods are soaring, as consumers try to eat a little bit better, a little bit cleaner and opt out of artificial ingredients.  The U.S. branded organic and natural foods industry's sales have been growing at a 12 percent compound rate over the last 10 years.

And while big food companies like General Mills might have fought this for some time, they also aren't stupid, and their job is to drive shareholder return.  Sales of processed foods and conventional products that are pumped full of artificial growth hormones, artificial dyes and other artificial ingredients like GMOs are lackluster at best.  The industry watches companies like Kellogg entrench and refuse to address this change in demand.  What happens?  Sales slump, and Kellogg is laying off 7% of their workforce.

It's a slow death by artificial ingredients. 

One look at the share price of Kroger or Chipotle tells the story of what happens to a company that expands into this 'free from' category: shareholders are rewarded. 

Why wouldn’t a company want to enter this space in a meaningful way?

Change is hypocritical.

General Mills has been part of the anti-labeling brigade.  Led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, they have been a core member of the team of companies that have spent millions to keep consumers in the dark.  When I spoke with their company recently, they were fascinated by what I had to say, then stopped and said, “But there is something on your bio that is a problem.”  “What is it?” I asked.  “It’s your affiliation with “Just Label It” campaign.

That is their problem, as taking the position that a consumer does not have the right to know how her food is made, despite the fact that we are told if milk is pasteurized or if orange juice comes from concentrate, is undemocratic.  It’s a freedom enjoyed by 60% of the world’s population. 

Annie's has been an outspoken advocate for GMO labeling.

Consumers got on it, and General Mills was quick to reply with their position.  They told consumers that we already have a way of knowing if GMOs are not in our products, and it's called "USDA Organic."  That's fine for consumers who can afford it, but what about everyone?  For those that want to know if GMOs are used, there is no mandatory labeling system in place.  Why label one and not the other?  The very costs that they are arguing against, they are happily paying when they label their organic products. 

So the outrage over this new marriage stems from the the fact that General Mills has fought to keep consumers from knowing what is in their products, while Annie's has led with transparency.

The reaction that consumers are having to the announcement is the fear that General Mills wrangles Annie’s into submission.  And while General Mills can operate Annie's with an expansive economy of scale and get their price to manufacture down, it's not all altruistic.  General Mills also knows that people are willing to pay more for Annie's products.  It's a way to diversify their portfolio, get better, higher margin products to market and increase Annie's availability in the marketplace.  It's good for business.  They also see the writing on the wall, and it doesn't contain the letters "G-M-O."

The fear is that Annie’s will fold, but this is where leadership and personal stories step in.  Annie’s CEO, a dad of four who comes from a farming family, holds a degree is in agricultural economics and has a background in banking, will be a pivotal leader in the organization.  He knows the supply chain and knows the demands of the financial world.   He also knows what it is like to see someone that you love face serious health challenges.  He knows that families around the country are experiencing these challenges every day. 

And like the CEO of Stonyfield did when he expanded the brand and the reach of the yogurt company through its Danone partnership, Annie’s CEO found a partner to expand and capture economies of scale that the company couldn’t on its own.  Stonyfield's founder never backed down.

General Mills buying into the organic movement through the purchase of Annie's provides distribution and access to capital.

Is consolidation the best answer?  "These big food companies aren't going to let anything else happen," said one of the portfolio managers that I used to work with when I spoke with him today. 

And right now, our food system is currently structured in a way that the costs of production for organic ingredients are disproportionately higher.   It is structured this way at the federal level.  It is not a level playing field for the organic industry. And when a company goes public, the way that Annie's did in 2012, it is opening itself for an acquisition. 

Does it mean that it will always be this way?  That policy will always be this way? Not at all.  Policy follows the money, and right now, the organic industry is growing while conventional is stagnant.  The landscape of the food industry is changing at every level.  Amazon is entering the retail space, online distribution companies are entering, too.  Farmers market and community supported agriculture are taking off.  Why?  Because the grocery retail structure makes it hard for smaller brands to compete.  They either have to sell out or buy in.  It requires capital.

To hit the scale and scope of distribution that makes a product accessible and affordable to all Americans, companies have repeatedly sold themselves to a larger company: Stonyfield to Danone, White Wave to Dean Foods, Happy Family again to Danone.  The list goes on. 

Have these brands sold out?  Or have the bigger brands bought into the organic movement?  Stonyfield didn't sell out.  Happy Family didn't either.  Both companies were founded by people who have personally known how autism or cancer can impact a family.

Do I wish there were other ways for these companies to scale?  And that the food industry had a level playing field for organic companies?  Absolutely.  There is nothing that I would rather have seen then Annie's, White Wave, Hain Celestial and other organic brands become the iconic brands of the 21st century.  Our generation's iterations of Kraft, General Mills and Pepsi.  

Perhaps this is the first iteration towards that.    But right now the cost structure is prohibitive.  We haven’t financed a healthy food system at the federal level.  If farmers want to grow organic crops, they lose the crop insurance protection programs, they lose subsidies and they lose marketing support.  Is that financially viable?

The food movement is not going away.  Demand for food that is 'free from' artificial ingredients like food dyes, GMOs, high fructose corn syrup and other ingredients is not a fad, because cancer, autism and food allergies are not fads.  We are seeing a fundamental shift in the way that Americans buy food, because we are sick. 

General Mills obviously recognizes that.  They are hedging with this acquisition, balancing their portfolio. The key is to not compromise the integrity of the Annie's brand in the process.  Creative destruction is an economic term trumpeted by a man named Joseph Schumpeter.  And change, in these early stages, often looks like hypocrisy.  It often looks destructive.  The question becomes: what is the long term objective here?  Is it really to destroy a brand?  No, it’s to capture its market share, its margins and expand into the category.

So how could this play out? 

A look back at other historic acquisitions in the food industry gives us a feel for how this could play out, because if the share prices of White Wave and other organic companies are any indication today, this consolidation stage will continue.

In 1985, Philip Morris Cos. became a holding company and the parent of Philip Morris Inc. and bought General Foods. The acquisition of Kraft Foods came in 1988. In 2001, Kraft Foods spun out of Phillip Morris and launched an IPO for 11.1% of the company that raked in $8.7 billion, making it the 2nd largest IPO in American history at the time

If General Mills decides to grow the Annie’s brand and then spin it out again in a few years time, like Philip Morris did with Kraft or like Dean Foods did with White Wave, they would drive enormous shareholder value if they stay true to the brand. 

If they don't, there are plenty of examples of fallout in the food industry.  From Kellogg’s, to the companies that made pink slime to those that put yoga mat material in their buns.  Shareholders suffer if companies don’t response to the 21st century online consumer.

We live in a day and time where online bullying can take many forms.  At the end of the day, no one misses a beat, and companies that think they can pull a fast one on the consumer are quickly proven wrong.

Refinance Food

We have financed a food system that gives food companies the incentive to use the cheaper ingredients.  The cost of producing organic ingredients is disproportionately higher than producing conventional, genetically engineered crops.  On top of that, farmers that choose to grow organic crops don't get the crop insurance programs and marketing support programs.  In other words, their entire cost of production is higher.  That hammers all of us.   It hammers food companies trying to do the right thing.

And as much as any of us want to romanticize food, right now, this is our current capitalist structure, and until we refinance the food system, this won't be the first of these acquisitions.

What if the cost of production were the same?  What if farmers, regardless of what they choose to plant on their farms, could receive crop insurance programs and marketing support?  What if food companies, regardless of what they choose to use in their products, had to label their ingredients as genetically engineered or not.

Right now, there is economic discrimination.  Costs are disproportionately higher for those who want organic food, from the farmers growing it to the food companies using it to the families eating it.

Does anyone want it this way?   Does General Mills?  Do our farmers? Do our families?

But we weren’t given a choice.

Right now, our taxpayer resources are used to support the food system dependent on GMOs and chemicals.  What if at the voting booth, we got to check a box? 

Do you want your taxpayer resources to support the food system?  And if yes, which would you rather see support given to farmers growing organic ingredients? To food companies using them?

How do we want our tax dollars to work in the food system?

What would General Mills choose if price weren't an issue?   If there were an economic equilibrium, which ingredients would General Mills choose?  Genetically engineered or organic?  And why haven’t we structured our food system with this kind of pricing parity?

Right now, no one has been given the choice because of the financial structure executed at the federal level through the crop subsidy programs, the crop insurance programs and the marketing support programs.  They only go one way.

Is this acquisition a symptom of that unhealthy financial structure?  

Under terms of the agreement, General Mills will acquire Annie’s for $46.00 per share in cash. The proposed transaction has an aggregate value of approximately $820 million.

It's not a hostile takeover.  Annie's entered into it as a way to grow to reach more consumers, just like Stonyfield did with Danone or White Wave did with Dean Foods.

The question is whose compass is stronger?  What will consumers do to send the message to General Mills that being part of the anti-labeling campaign is detrimental to shareholders? 

Annie's has the wind at its back.  General Mills know that.  Consumers want "free from" food.  Food that is "free from" artificial ingredients, artificial dyes, growth hormones and genetically engineered ingredients. One look at the share price of Chipotle tells that story.

As more and more companies enter the organic space, either through new products or through acquisitions, it again begs the question: is the Grocery Manufacturers Association a relic of the 20th century?  If this organization is not working to meet the needs of its member companies, should it still exist in its current form?  Or should a new organization, let's call it the Food Production Association, be formed to meet the evolving needs of these brands in the 21st century?

Change at its very core begins with hypocrisy. 

If General Mills chooses to make a strategic shift and follow Annie's into an industry with a 12% compound annual growth rate, delivering a portfolio increasing full of “free from” foods, shareholders will be rewarded.  The rates of cancer, autism, food allergies and other conditions aren’t declining. This food awakening isn't a fad.

Annie's has the potential to be a powerful compass for General Mills.  If the companies are serious about their commitment to the 21st century consumer and their shareholders, they should step away from the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s anti-labeling campaign and join the consumer where she stands: in the grocery store aisles, reading food labels while holding the hand of a loved one with allergies, autism, EoE, cancer, diabetes or any one of the conditions impacting our families today and deliver exactly what she wants: food that is “free from” artificial ingredients and information about how she can protect the health of her family.

General Mills is already labeling genetically engineered ingredients in the products that they sell overseas, or they're not using them altogether.   

It's up to them if they continue to operate with a 20th century mentality or if they will move into the 21st century with the consumer and Annie's as a compass. 

Kellogg has a story to tell.  Chipotle does, too.

It's up to General Mills which one will be theirs. And if their shareholders are paying attention, the writing is on the wall, and it doesn't contain the letters "G-M-O."



Land of the Free, Home of the Brave
Monday, September 01, 2014

National holidays give us good reason to stop and give thanks for those who have worked and labored for the freedoms we have today. 

Labor Day has always been one of those days to me.  The schedule stops, we slow down, savoring the last days of summer before they disappear, and we give thanks.

And then a friend shared this version of the Star Spangled Banner.  I've known him since I was little.  We both grew up in Houston and have grandfathers who served in the church.  We were wired in similar ways when we were younger and expanded our beliefs as we got older.  

As I watched these six year old girls sing the National Anthem at a Texas Tech basketball game, my eyes watered as they always do when I hear this song.  But it was the lyrics at the end that resonated as if hearing them again for the first time.  

"The land of the free, and the home of the brave." 

That is what this food movement is all about, the fundamental freedom to know what is going into the food we are feeding our families, and the courage to stand up for that right as citizens.

Happy Labor Day.