Monday, November 4, 2013

Food Fight

Many of my readers are from the great state of Washington, but since more are not, you may not know that this election we're trying to pass a labeling measure similar to the one that failed in California last year. If passed, Initiative 522 would ensure that everything sold in the grocery store that's labeled would have to clearly state whether it contains Genetically Modified Organisms.

It's a fairly simple proposition, though like all initiatives, has complex implementing requirements and changes to the way things are done now. I-522 does not effect food that's prepared, meaning sold in restaurants, and most foods in grocery stores already have scores of nutritional information on their packaging. The Initiative gives manufacturers a long grace period to alter their labels, which they do frequently anyway, and would only add one more piece of information to the already convoluted labels packed with all kinds of information. Heck, all organic food that's packaged, always says so in rather large letters.

I'm not going to do the thing everyone and their mother is doing on facebook here and implore my Washington readers to vote for I-522. If you read this blog I'm pretty sure you will. After phone-banking for them a few nights over the last month and the insane influx of cash from agri-business, evil chemical companies , and many other entities that have a financial stake in keeping the public in the dark about what they're actually eating, I feel that a lot of other people might not vote for it.  I'm hopeful, but doubtful.

The reasoning behind this initiative (brought to the ballot with the signatures of about 350 000 Washingtonians) is that, since there is still serious doubt the long-term health effects of GMOs, perhaps we should not test those effects on the American public. The pro-I-522 website has a laundry list of issues with GMOs, a hot topic of debate among consumers for over a decade now.

Further thought into Genetically modifying plants and animals, might also make one question that right of companies to play G-O-D, the right of companies to patent organisms, the right of companies to control seeds and even create crops who's seed is infertile? You might even wonder, why are chemical companies so invested in our food production?

As much as I'd like to, I'm not going to get into those questions, or paraphrase common arguments for and against genetically manipulating flora and fauna. There's tons of resources and literature about the issue of GMOs, as well as the chemicals in our produce, the toxins lining our cans, and the hormones in our meat, available to anyone interested.

In fact, I have to admit I'm little tiny bit puzzled by the whole labeling issue. I understand the theory: if more people see how many things they routinely buy, eat, feed their kids contain GMOs, there'll hopefully be an outrage, perhaps some real change, at least in the public's buying habits. If enough states pass it, it will become the standard, benefiting even the folks who don't live in those states. Based on the amount of money the companies in this business have poured into opposing I-522, they seem to believe that this would be the case.

It's a valid theory and I think that people totally have the right to know what's in their food.

However when this issue was on the ballot in California there was a lot of "Oh my gosh! Without this measure how are we supposed to navigate the treacherous course of the grocery isles??!?! This measure is our only chance of knowing what's really in our food!!!!". (Insert the character from Simpson's who always screams "The children! Will somebody please think of the children?!?!")

In a country who's identity is so tied into personal responsibility, one might think that folks who want to make sure they're not feeding their families the slapdash experiments of a notoriously laissez-fair industry, regulated by a notoriously devil-may-care agency, could figure out that our food already has labels telling you if there are GMOs in it.

So rather than talk about how you should vote, or what you should eat, I'm gonna try 'n tell you what not to eat if you're trying to avoid GMOs. It works whether this initiative, or any other one passes, and once you master it, it takes only marginally longer at the grocery store. I'm also not going to get into how you should "only eat local, organic, sustainable, whole-foods, hormone-free, pasture-raised, wild-crafted everything" because I know it's not realistic for most folks.

However, if you want to try keep you and yours away from GMOs, here's some super-simple rules:

-If a product contains non-organic corn (the fun part is no one seems exactly sure how much of US corn is GMO), soy (almost a 100% chance it's genetically modified), canola (Fun fact: canola produces much of the pollen for commercial honey operations, so there could be GMO pollen in your non-organic honey. Honey, bees and GMOs is a whole other fun can of worms.), (and to a lesser extent) sugar beet sugar, it's pretty much guaranteed that it also contains GMOs. That's right. Majority of the packaged food in your local big-chain grocery store contains some GMOs. And it'll make you look at Trader Jib's and other "natural" food image purveyors in a whole different light. (Did you know that many of the "natural" and "organic"-image riding Trader Faker stores don't even carry certain basic products in organic varieties? And don't even get me started on Whole Hog, I mean Whole Yuppie.)

-If you buy milk products that either aren't organic, or don't explicitly  state that they do not use rGBH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone) or rGBT (recombinant Bovine Somatotropin-the two are different names for the same thing) then you are most likely enjoying (at the very minimum) trace amounts of a genetically engineered cow-hormone. Yum. If you don't feel like you can afford the organic alternative, find a dairy in your area that labels theirs rGBH or rGBT free. There's a lot of them. You might even luck out and find one that doesn't use antibiotics either.

-When in doubt, assume it's not organic, not the other way around. Even if the brand you're buying has a variation of the word "organic" in it's name, for example "Some Old Movie Star's Organics", unless each ingredient listed is labeled as organic, assume it is not. (Old Movie Star O's for instance have all these lovely organic ingredients like wheat flour and sugar, only to have regular soy lecithin and canola oil at the end of the list. Fail.)

-The more processed, the more likely to contain GMOs and G** knows what else. It's as simple as that. If you're buying snack foods, dairy, candy, frozen meals, the odds are good that the goods are odd.

-Don't be fooled by other non-specific labels like "local", or "pastured", "natural", "free range". Those may be good things, they may be fake things, but they're not the same as organic, or GMO-free.

Look out mama, these fun GMO products could be coming to a grocery store near you in the not-too-distant-future: Rice, potatoes, salmon. GMO tomatoes actually got pulled out of our grocery stores in 1998 after the scientist who helped develop it came out in public stating it might be carcinogenic, but there has been talk of companies in trials with a different variety.

Obviously this list may not be comprehensive, but based on my own reading, I've found that adhering to it, you can at least try to avoid GMOs at the grocery store. Now, eating in a restaurant, that's a whole different ballgame.

(Much of the foods pictured is house-warming gifts from neighbors. Our neighbors are amazing, apparently!)

I have another post on food in the pipeline, so let me know if you liked this one, or if it was helpful, or if you already knew all about it and let's get back to cute frocks already.

Also I'd be curious to find out whether you're worried about GMOs and other food issues, or if it's not something you care about/ have energy for?

Oh and wish Washington luck sound judgement and informed voting! Edit 11/5/13: Initiative 522 failed after out-of-state corporate donors made the campaign to pass it the most expensive in Washington's history. Which why we all need to be self-educated before going to the store. I'll return later to respond to these lovely comments. After I eat some non-GMO chocolate wild-harvested from the South End Grocery. 

29 comments:

  1. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeees, I'm finding my ethics being tested since our income drop. But agree and i keep on trying within the realms of what we can afford. Meat especially. Local produce definitely - except for bananas. And the ladies at Commonsense Organics always find something nice to say about my clothes ha!!

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    1. I know right? Sometimes I look at our grocery bill I'm just like "we're crazy!" and then I'm like "We're so privileged!" and then I'm like "We're so lucky!" and then I usually remember to pray at dinner.

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  2. yes, gmo's are and have been a concern of mine for several years. i wish i could say we eat 100% gmo free but we don't. there are a large number of things i won't buy unless they are organic and i definitely avoid non-organic soy, corn and canola and butter but we do eat out occasionally and you know if you're eating out, you are most likely eating gmo's. i went pretty crazy with it all 4 or 5 years ago but have learned to make compromises mostly due to our restrictive budget. i agree that it's pretty easy to avoid them without these laws- eat organic, fresh, unprocessed foods and you'll be doing fine. i do still hope they pass though, as the companies behind it all are freaking evil.

    those mushrooms look divine!

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    1. I mean I really hoped they would pass it, because yes, it would really make some real change on a grander scale, and those companies are totally EVIL, but I also feel like I see a lot of folks who should know better, not shop better and I feel like folks use their "ignorance" to not have to deal with the realities of American food. I know what you mean, I'm definitely trying to avoid becoming the shrill, crazy organics person. Might not be succeeding tho...

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  3. Love this. Long time reader, never before commented. Suppose I am a bit of a lurker. :) Just had to let you know that I loved this and would be very interested in more practical info and tips like this. I'm a working mother of two and try to feed, clothe, care for my family with natural, organic and ethical products. It isn't always easy on a budget and I haven't been able to do as well as I'd like in all areas, so I love picking up on tips and tricks like this. Hopefully one day we won't have to resort to tips and tricks to ensure our family is getting the best food and care, but for now, they are greatly appreciated. Wishing you health and peace!

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    1. Thanks Kelly! Nice to meet you! How rad to know you're out there. I often tend to feel like I have to cover everything from atom, or that I don't know enough to advice people, yet I'm learning that it's really important that we share these things and have a lively conversation. I feel like doing more concise, focused posts like these would be easier than trying to tackle whole subjects that folks write books about. Thanks again for the encouragement.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this, Milla - this is great knowledge that I really appreciate having! It can be tough to navigate the grocery store, but it's so critically important to be conscious of what's going into our bodies.

    Megan

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    1. Lovely Megan! Thank you! I can't wait for us to someday sit down for a cup of some nettle tea and hash it all out ;)

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  5. i "know all about it" and i never get tired of cute frocks, but not everyone nerds out about food issues the way i do (or you do :) so HELL YES PUT IT OUT THERE. the whole issue is made even more confounding by the erosion of the organic standard, since it went all FDA. (like "organic eggs" are neither organic nor humane. oh cali foods act of 1990, how i miss thee). anyway, love it, thank you, you rock and btw i am so fired for not answering your FB letter, but yes please to tea and chat. organic tea. that we grew ourselves, of course. xoxo

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    1. My dearest, thanks for your kind comments. I know, that's a thole other post too. Which is funny, 'cos first I'm like buy organic, but really that isn't all there is to it. It's just that I feel like people get so lost in the options, because fuck yes, that stuff is confusing as hell. I have so much to say about it, yet feel so overwhelmed by it. Sigh. anywhoo, don't you know that you're tenured? And since you're our star professor there's like no way this department would ever fire you anyway. we simply put up with your small eccentricities. ;)

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  6. this is so incredibly helpful to me milla. i have a laundry list of items that i will ONLY buy organic no matter how poor we are (and poor we are indeed) but your tips here are so helpful to me in expanding and refining that list. i just checked a bit through my fridge, and it gave me more questions...for example, i have Veganaise (i have oddly taken a liking to this product during this second pregnancy, never used mayo or anything like it much before!) and it is not organic (i might have thought it was) and made with canola oil, but it has a little sticker that says Non-GMO project verified. does that really mean that it does not contain GMOs? labeling (as in all language where politics and production collide) is so tricky, but i hope it does mean that. anyway another thing that has frustrated me no end is the lack of organic items for WIC consumers. It is a program that is supposed to help provide healthy eating for pregnant and lactating mothers and their babies and small children, and yet so many of their regulations are ridiculously behind the times. i mean i am not allowed to purchase organic milk, whole grain products, cereals, etc. the only things that allow organic are the fruits and veggies and for that (usually my main purchase at the grocery store) they only allow $10 a month. WHAT? i did get some vouchers for the farmers market, but they were used up really quickly. you should see the cereals they promote! anyway, that is a totally separate rant, but your post opens up a lot of great questions. by the way, i don't remember who it was that recommended using a cast iron pan to me when you all visited but it might have been you, and i thank you! i now use one almost exclusively and i am a lot more comfortable with that than the scratched up teflon cast-offs that i was previously using. as you can see, although i try to be mindful i do have a long way to go in learning and addressing the nutritional needs of my family, and yet the doctor's office and WIC people act like i'm some granola-ey hippie! i wish i were so much more so, and again, that is why i thank you wholeheartedly for this list and practical, useful, basic information such as this.

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    1. Oh gosh, my next post is hopefully gonna be about "poverty" and all it's implications, I'm sure you'll have much to say. As far as I know non-GMO verified is actually THE BEST America has to offer, there's actual continued testing of the products, rather than one-time application process and they actually assess the chance that the product contain strains carefully it seems. Oh man WIC is all about American cheese right? I hope there's a dairy in your neck of the woods that is rGBH-free. Do you guys get Clover? I know that is since I read the labels visiting Missa ;) Oh and that might have been me on the cast iron thing, I really like to preach it ;) Thanks for the encouragement love!

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  7. I would love to read more posts along these lines, and thanks for the info in this one. When I'm in the mood to get really fired up and yell at my tv then go to bed angry I like to watch documentaries about genetically engineered foods and crazy death seeds and whatnot. Say, I bet you've watched some too... how about some documentary recommendations? And a reading list of the books you've found most enlightening? I would love to see that in a post coming soon. PS Can I get one of those I Voted stickers? PPS I want to eat that entire jar of kraut.

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    1. Thanks hon, I'll keep these good suggestions in mind, I think I owe you and email too, if so, I apologize. I'll try to get to it soon. PS. ME TOO. Or Kimchi.

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  8. This is one issue I can get really fired up about, and supremely depressed about too.I think the most frustrating aspect of all of this is that there really is very little room to be a conscientious shopper in the U.S. without being somewhat educated and/or moderately well-off. Especially in the growing more numerous food deserts of American suburbia. Labeling in my opinion is one certainly necessary, but small step... but I'm not really sure it would do a whole lot without more information and education on GMOs. I see so many foods in the grocery store with labels that indicate there are things in those products that we already know are toxic and potentially carcinogenic... like preservatives/nitrates, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, bleached refined flours etc. Recently I saw a package of tortillas that contained methylparabens? WTF? Not that I would be opposed to food labels. I'm just not sure that the underclass of Americans who are consuming some of the most unhealthy foods known to human history have the luxury of choice.

    The class- based issues are something I really struggle with, and I can't seem to figure out how the sustainable food movement can start to reach more people. How do you educate without patronizing? How can good food/good farmers compete with "cheap" food and big ag.? Would people actually be willing to sacrifice what would be necessary to change our food system?

    In either case, the conversations are necessary.Thanks for sharing the news on this issue :)

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    1. Eugh, really parabens in tortillas!?!? That is messed up! I think that if people really knew what this stuff was doing to our bodies and the environment, they would get up in arms about it, but at the same time, there's a willful ignorance and need for convenience. I find that it's easy to say things like you can eat cheap whole foods and stay away from toxins, but then in my own life when I'm not just working from home, meal-planning and cooking gets to be so taxing. When I'm working at the restaurant my family pretty much eats food from there the nights I get home. Sure it's good organic food, but I get the pressure. No matter how dedicated you are there's so much more to life than just cooking and sometimes I see exactly where folks come from with the cheap and convenient. I don't agree or approve but I understand. Conversations, yup, that's the start. Hugs to you!

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  9. I read Emma Marris's "Rambunctious Garden" a while ago which made me think harder about what I was consuming without paying as much attention as I could have (though I already paid a lot of attention).. it's so hard to navigate this labelling stuff and all the constantly changing news surrounding it- your guidelines here are so valuable to keep in mind :)

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    1. Book rec! Rad! Thank you. It should not be this difficult. In Europe it still is a little easier, but gosh even without GMOs there's so many traps in food you, or someone you know didn't make from scratch. Thanks for the encouragement too. Happy Fall thoughts to you.

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    2. Oh yeah that book is totally recommended reading! :)

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  10. Eating consciously is definitely an evolution, as each day you gather a little more info, and make small changes based on that new information. We stay away from the big grocers nowadays, except for a few select items. As I occasionally wander the aisles of our closest big-box grocer (Ralphs) I am struck by how much of our "food" is not actually food...if you catch my drift. Its processed beyond belief, even the so-called natural foods contain ingredients you simply wouldn't add at home.

    Our solution - ALWAYS buy organic where possible, and make as much from scratch as we can. We buy most items in bulk from organic wholesalers - 5lbs to 25lbs - beans, flour, honey, etc ...we buy our rice 75 lbs at a time from a family grower here in CA, we buy almonds 25 lbs at a time from a small family orchard. We've basically got a food storage locker to keep it all fresh and uninfested. We grow what we can...which I wish would be more. We participate in local fruit harvests...where we walk the neighborhood in select areas and collect unwanted fruit from trees - you would be amazed an how much goes to waste around here! Avocados & citrus primarily, but also berries, mangos, sapote, persimmon, passsionfruit, guava....

    I think people feel trapped into buying crappy food, because they don't know where else to turn for options that are affordable. Again - I do think its an art, something that evolves, and takes some time and energy to learn. Also - a budget shift - after housing - food is our next largest expense. But we cut out other things - no new cars, no cable - in fact - no TV at all, no fancy electronics, no latest and greatest, very little dining out, crappy cell phones with cheap plans, itty bitty house...

    I do wish that it was easier to eat well, and I wish that so that more people could achieve it. Both for their sake, and for the earth. On a positive note, I have observed a shift in people over the last 5 years or so, so I do feel encouraged that eventually we'll get there.



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    1. I'm so with you on that. at the same time, I feel like what you buy in the store is ground zero for that, the gateway drug, if you will. Once you start reading the labels you start gaining an understanding about food that is independent from what experts and nutritionists tell us. It's often the WTF moment. Then when you start eating local, fresh produce you start realizing how much better it tastes and then you realize bulk whole foods are cheaper and more delicious and so on. But folks gotta start somewhere, just like you said. It takes time. Thanks for sharing the link I'll add that to my next post and have other folks share resources too. I can't wait to hear more of your (and everyone else's) thoughts on this! Thank you!

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  11. www.AzureStandard.com

    Just wanted to put it out there...they are a great natural foods distributor - and they may just deliver to your area. Highly recommended, with the exception of their produce. Feel free to get in touch with me, if any questions. I have no association with them, other than being a customer.

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  12. The above note is for all readers, by the way! :)

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  13. Gosh! This again reminds me why I love your blog. I knew most of the tips, but it was refreshing to not be told to go call *whomever local politician* again, it was a nice welcome twist and a good reminder to stay on top of ingredient lists. I'd love to see more food related posts from you! Those dandelion greens and mushrooms are mouthwatering!

    While we're on the subject of GMO's though, my parents produced this short doc a few months ago that you might enjoy (for informative content, not enjoyable content;).

    http://our-common-roots.com/GMOINFO

    Good luck in the fight!

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    1. Thanks hon, I'm so encourage and I'm SO STOKED to check that doc out, will definitely link to it on my next post. I just feel that remembering that in some things we are self-empowered is a total boon in this topsy-turvy world of ours.

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  14. So sad to wake up yesterday and see that 522 didn't make it :( ...for the record, Whatcom, San Juan, King, and Jefferson counties voted in favor of it by a good margin. Peeps just gotta keep up the fight! ...if I can't believe that we can one day overcome Monsanto and its minions one day...oh I don't know what I'll do...I just pray that when my kids are adults, they don't have to explain to their children why most of the food in the store is poisonous...

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    1. I know right? It was all the big counties, and in a way I feel like we were so close and California was so close that if we could just close that Citizens United, we'd already be in business. It amazes me that after all the publicity the campaign money flow got, people didn't simple vote against it to stick it "to the man" for buying the election. Big sigh. Hugs to you dear.

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  15. Just wanted to say thanks for this post, I read it a few days ago but was too sleepy to comment then - this is an awesome mini-consumers' guide! I'm sorry about initiative 522, I listened to an interview with Delana Jones Wed. morning and she was still so hopeful. It sucks. For me trying to avoid GMOs is partly about personal health, but also about being environmentally responsible and thinking longterm about our food supply - super beetles and corn that can't seed after 20 yrs of production b/c who knows what the what is gonna happen down the line when we keep messing with plant DNA, etc. I think the labeling initiative is less important for informing consumers and more about transparency and regulation. It's kind of ridiculous what food manufacturers can get away with - like the fact that everyone's avoiding high fructose corn syrup, but now they're just eating GE beet sugar b/c the beet sugar industry is allowed to call it sugar. I get that people should take the initiative to be informed consumers, and a lot of consumers are just being lazy or don't care, but I also think there are a lot of oppressive systems in this country that are class and race-based that really make it hard for consumers to make informed choices, and a lot of private sector industries that promote and profit from the ignorance of the general populace when it comes to food. It's super depressing to look at the so-called "food desert" neighborhoods in urban areas and how much other industries are actually profiting off of people living in poor health, like areas where there's no grocery store for miles but multiple dialysis centers (that was my neighborhood in DC a few years ago). I think at least getting these initiatives on the ballots raises some more awareness and discussion on a wider scale.
    And thanks for sticking it to Trader Joes, ha! I hate that store - I lived in Seattle for a few months and everyone was all about them, and I was like what's the big deal, there is nothing special about this food, it's the same exact shit you'll find at any other big grocery store, and what's with all the packaging? You can't buy an apple, you have to buy four apples in a huge plastic container? WTF??
    Anyway, thanks for another thoughtful & intelligent post, this was rad.
    (And you've probably already seen this but I love this Ted talk on food independence - http://www.ted.com/talks/ron_finley_a_guerilla_gardener_in_south_central_la.html)

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  16. This is a topic my family and I have been discussing/dealing with lately. The money issue is tricky because I fully believe that eating as local and organic as possible is cheaper in the long run (i.e. less sickness, doctors visits.) but it can really take a chunk out of the budget on a monthly basis. I think we've really had to assess our priorities and make sacrifices in other area in order to eat in a more mindful way. Try as we might to budget ourselves on groceries, we always break it if we go all organic and especially local. We spent most of our money moving a couple of months ago and had to eat really cheap for a month. It bothered me because I knew we were more than likely consuming GMO's and all sorts of other nasty additives. It really makes me sad to think of what we (as a country ) eat without knowing. I was getting this cheese that said "all natural" which is a total croc because anything can claim to be all natural and since it didn't have a *no rBgh on it I knew it probably had hormones. It's disturbing really. Same goes for beauty products, cookware, etc. I've really made an effort to get rid of a lot of known toxic items in our home. We made the switch to cast iron recently although cooking eggs has been frustrating :) I've got to learn how to cook eggs in iron without sticking.
    Something I really enjoy about where I live is that it's a small city in the south and yet there is a huge focus on urban farming and supporting local organic farms. It gives me hope to see the kind of movement that is happening around here. OK, I'm rambling. Anyway, I love reading your blog Milla!

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