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Mary's Gone Crackers & Speaks Out Against GMOs

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Genetically Modified Organisms via Shutterstock
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By Gabriela Worrel / Special to LAist

In the controversial world of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), some business owners prefer using organic, non-GMO ingredients in their products. GMOs are organisms that have been genetically altered in the laboratory. The process often involves inserting genes from completely different species into the DNA, altering the organism's genetic makeup forever. This means that the genetic changes will be passed on to following generations. This differs from traditional breeding, which only emphasizes organism traits already present in the DNA. GMOs are found in many processed foods, and the USDA has estimated that as much as 90% of corn and soy plants grown in the United States are genetically modified.

Mary Waldner, founder and owner of Mary's Gone Crackers, is passionate about only using organic, non-GMO ingredients in her gluten-free crackers. She founded the company in 2004 after discovering she had Celiac disease - an extreme allergy to gluten in wheat and other grains - and perfecting a delicious gluten-free cracker recipe. At the time, "there was nothing organic and whole grain in the gluten-free world," Waldner says, but from the very beginning, she only used organic, GMO-free ingredients. "That's how I ate and who I am," she says.

Business owners like Waldner have the option of working with third parties to ensure the integrity of their ingredients. The cracker company works with the Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit organization that tests and certifies non-GMO foods. You'll find the non-GMO Project label on every box of her crackers and on the company's website.

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"Anything that is promoting awareness, we support," says Waldner. "I think the awareness is finally coming. There's a lot of misinformation about organic food. People don't really understand what it really means, and they think 'natural' means organic."

It's clear that Waldner is in fact well-educated on why she opposes GMOs in the food system.

There's a lot of people out there saying that it's the same as we've always done. [In GMOs] Scientists are injecting genes from other species [into the food plants]. Even though it's presented as if they know what they are doing, they really don't know where it [the new gene] is going and what it's doing to the plant. There is an irreversibility of it - genes are starting to contaminate our food. Once that happens you can't go back. We are changing the DNA.

Waldner is also concerned about the impacts GMOs have on human health and the environment.

"We don't know the impact it's having on us or the bees, or butterflies. Few tests that have been done are very alarming (what it does to mice). Because the FDA gave a blanket approval [to GMOs], none of tests they'd normally have to go through are done. We really don't know the impact it's having on the environment or on our bodies. That's insane."

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Some may question whether an organic and non-GMO business model is viable. Waldner considers herself living proof that business will be profitable in such a system. She tells other food business owners to take the risk.

Use organic ingredients. Supply chain issues - I think those are valid issues, but I can say that we've grown very quickly (for example, we are buying over 2 million pounds of rice per year) and have not used GMOs. Now we have direct relationships with growers. Our growth encourages farmers to grow something organic. When they know we're going to need an ingredient, they will make the effort to grow something organic; Not overnight, it is a process. If businesses really want to eliminate products/crops from environment, they have to make the commitment to use organic ingredients. The bigger they get, the more farmers shift. Absolutely they can be profitable. Organic and gluten free [markets] are both growing. It's scary and risky, because you'e on the frontier, clearing the field in a new way. But if you do some market research, people want it. People want to have authentic relationship with the farmers, and they care about not poisoning farmers, too. People care about that.

The gluten-free offerings have increased in the seven years since Waldner started her cracker company, giving consumers more opportunities to choose companies that support a non-GMO food system. Waldner explains that she doesn't use organic, GMO-free products in spite of the challenge to be different, but because of it.

"I would never produce food apart from my ethical/moral beliefs; It's who I am. Now I understand how hard it is to bring products to market. It's too much work to bother to try and make money off something and compromise your values. It's a tremendous amount of work, and for me it's just not worth adding more junk to the world."

Check out our previous Label GMO 2012 Campaign coverage:
Is California Poised to Change the Nation's Food Landscape?
Hidden in Our Food: GMOs & Your Right to Know
Exercise Democracy at The World Food Day Rally