Natural Products Expo West 2011, Part 1: Big Issues

What recession? If the gigantic Natural Products Expo West 2011, held last weekend in Anaheim, Calif., is any indication, things just might be looking up. The expo was even bigger than last year’s record-breaking event. All things organic, natural, sustainable and GMO-free converged on the convention center in a vast trade show of more than 3,500 exhibits and 58,000 attendees.

I spent two days trolling the show floor–at times feeling like a hardworking little sustainable salmon swimming upstream against the tide of people. Of course, I tasted all manner of goodies, but amid the fair-trade quinoa-laced chocolate, myriad coconut-based products and artisanal cheeses, these are two major themes that touched just about everything at the expo:

Say No to GMOs!

GMOs have made headlines in the last few months, as the USDA continues to deregulate genetically engineered crops. That has the organics industry mad as hell and looking for ways to mobilized consumers to demand better regulations and labeling.  The GMO debate was a hot topic everywhere, from the expo floor to overflowing educational sessions. The Non-GMO Project, the third-party certifier of GMO-free products, had a major presence with a big booth and its seal prominently displayed by hundreds of exhibitors.

“At the end of the day, it’s about freedom of choice and taking back our country,” Stonyfield Farms CEO Gary Hirshberg told the audience at an educational session. “This isn’t just about organics vs. GEs. We have a lot more allies in this than we thought.” To be successful, the fight against GMOs has to include the entire range of opponents, from those who support organics to conventional farmers who don’t use GMOs to others who object to messing with nature’s work.

We’ll have more details on what was said about GMO’s at the expo in a future post, including some grass-roots solutions from Europe that may make a difference here.

Origins Count

Some foods have always been about origin–gourmet chocolate and coffee are just two examples. Now producers and manufacturers of all kinds of other commodities are looking for ways to share the story behind a product; telling consumers where it comes from, who produces it and under what conditions. Why? We want to know that food was sustainably produced and safe.

Earthbound Farms’ large booth displayed photos and info about their “Meet Our Farmers” program. Petaluma Poultry, makers of Rosie Organic and Rocky the Range free-range chicken, debuted its Trace Our Tracks program that allows shoppers to enter a label code at HarvestMark.com (or scan it with a free iPhone app) to follow their chicken back to the farm.

This kind of information is smart to share with consumers, especially those with concerns about sustainability and/or food safety. It also helps justify the price for a premium product. One example is Wild Planet’s Wild Albacore tuna, which costs about $5 for a 5-ounce can. It’s sustainably caught by troll or pole, and each fish is individually selected. Wild Planet uses only smaller troll- or pole-caught, 9- to 25-pound tuna, which means this albacore is low in mercury. Then it’s cooked in the can with no added water or oil, so it’s very high in omega-3 fatty acids. This makes for a delicious canned tuna you’d want to highlight in a recipe that really spotlights its vivid flavor, like our Sustainable Tuna Caponata, below, or Trennette Pasta with Tuna, Lemon, Capers and Spinach.

Of course, there’s also the taste-of-the-place appeal. Organic Valley’s Pasture Butter, which is produced in small batches from May to September using the milk of pasture-grazed cows, is rich in vegetal flavor.

And what about all the other treats I sampled? We’ll have a followup post that spotlights some of the best items I found, including ancient-grain cookies, a vegan cheese even I can love and a new type of sugar I can’t wait to try.

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2 Replies to “Natural Products Expo West 2011, Part 1: Big Issues”

  1. Hi, Polly:

    We don’t have a glossary on the site, but your question indicates that we need one 😉 !

    To answer your questions:

    GMOs = genetically modified organisms, and the term is used interchangeably with genetic engineering (GE). It refers to inserting foreign genes into the DNA of a plant (or animal) to create a genetically modified organism. Crops typically are genetically modified to be herbicide resistant. Concerns about GMO plants include their potential to contaminate other crops (such as organics), the rise of herbicide-resistant “superweeds” (which would require farmers to use even more herbicides) and possible health consequences. To learn more, check out this story: http://nourishnetwork.com/2011/02/23/ge-and-organics-is-coexistence-possible/ and the Non-GMO Project’s website: http://www.nongmoproject.org/.

    CSAs = community-supported agriculture. It’s a system that allows you to buy a share in a local farm’s harvest. For more information on how CSAs work, check out http://nourishnetwork.com/2010/09/28/csa-101/. And to learn how CSAs compare to buying local food at farmers’ markets and grocery stores, check out http://nourishnetwork.com/2011/03/09/the-economics-of-local-farmers-markets-csas-and-stores/.

    I hope this helps, and thanks for alerting us to the need for a glossary–great idea! Let us know if there are other terms or issues you want us to define as well.

    Cheers!

    Alison

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