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MUCH ADO ABOUT SOMETHING

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In front of the H-E-B headquarters, a small group of concerned citizens gathered to protest H-E-B's use of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in their house brands ("Hill Country Fare" and products carrying the H-E-B label). Erica Gray, an organic farmer from Boerne, was decked out in a pilgrim costume with a baby in tow, holding a banner reading: "H-E-B's genetically engineered foods are nothing to be thankful for."

"Everybody thinks that an apple is an apple and a piece of meat is a piece of meat," Gray said. But, citing the example of the Flavr Savr tomato (which contains fish genes), that is rarely the case anymore, Gray added. Since 1995, when GMOs made their agricultural debut, a significant number of food products have been grown with a little extra boost, courtesy of altered genetics. Despite FDA approval, many consumers around the world have become concerned about the long-term effects of GMOs on the human body and the environment. The European Union has imposed a moratorium on approval of new GMOs, sparking both a worldwide debate about the health risks of genetic engineering and flaring tempers by American agri-corporations such as Dupont and Monsanto, who claim that other nations' refusals to accept products with GMOs constitutes an infringement of free trade agreements.

The U.S. government still refuses to require companies to label genetically-engineered products. Activists, such as the ones who gathered at H-E-B's headquarters, are hoping to bring their concerns to the attention of company executives.

"H-E-B is concerned about their public image," said Luke Metzger of TexPIRG. "The labels on these products," he said, pointing to a table full of H-E-B brand products, "tell customers how many calories `they contain`, how much sodium. Customers should also know if there are GMOs in their food." Metzger cited a scientific study that faulted GMOs with the development of stomach lesions in rodents, as well as faulty or nonexistent testing of the health effects of GMOs by the FDA.

Yet H-E-B spokesperson Winell Herron said her company is "committed to absolutely safe food. The food on our shelf is safe for human consumption. The items that they're talking about, the GM items, have been shown by the FDA to be as good as, or better than, the food without GM ingredients." Critics contend that studies on the effects of GM food on humans have been inadequate, and local protesters are still hoping to foment change within H-E-B, which they say has taken the initiative in the past to assure their products contain minimal levels of pesticide residue.

Four blocks away from this demonstration, another took place in front of the Mexican embassy, where a small group of women were draping themselves in flags and cloth banners to block out the cold. Their organizations - the Southwest Workers' Union and Unidas Sin Fronteras (United Without Borders) - were protesting to draw attention to immigrant rights and border issues, as well as to their observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. "We need more discussion about these issues," said Guadalupe Ramirez, who had traveled from Juárez to make her cause known. November 25, despite its negative historical antecedents, was shaping up to be a proud day for activism.


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