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GE food and the new administration: change or more of the same?

Auto Date Thursday, November 27th, 2008

Support of the biotech industry has never been about party politics. It is simply and purely an issue of money and power. Government support for biotech crops stems from two important facts: they are U.S.-developed and biotech corporations have made significant financial contributions to politicians and political parties. Through economic and political pressure, biotech-giant Monsanto has influenced past administrations – republicans and democrats – and now there is a chance we may have politics-as-usual regarding genetically engineered food with the Obama administration.

In September, Science Debate 2008, a non-partisan political education group, posed science questions to the presidential candidates. When asked about the concerns of the effects of genetic modification both in humans and agriculture, Obama’s (partial) response was:

“Advances in the genetic engineering of plants have provided enormous benefits to American farmers. I believe that we can continue to modify plants safely with new genetic methods…”

Obama’s statements on GE food tell us that he is either uninformed about GE food or is choosing to propagate the biotech façade due to industry influence.

It is public knowledge that the genetic engineering of plants has NOT provided enormous benefits to American farmers. Seeds of Doubt, a 2002 report from the UK’s Soil Association, was the first detailed look at what has happened in North America since the commercial growing of GE crops started in 1996. The study debunked the myth that GE technology represents progress, showing that farmers of GE crops continue to report lower yields, have a greater reliance on herbicide use, have problems with herbicide resistant weeds, have lost export trade and have faced lower market prices resulting in a reduction in profits – which has increased the need for government (taxpayer) subsidies.

American taxpayers support the multi-billion dollar biotech industry by massively funding GE crop and dairy subsidies, state initiatives, tax breaks, foreign aid and other biotech support doled out by the U.S. government. United States farm subsidies have grown dramatically since the growth of GE crops and the resulting lost exports.

Obama contends “we can continue to modify plants safely,” yet no long-term studies to assess safety exist. The FDA does not require specific safety studies or test methods to be conducted on GE crops; biotech company consultations with the agency are voluntary.

Only a handful of independent safety tests have ever been conducted and none prove safety of GE food for human consumption. Nearly every independent animal feeding safety study on GE foods shows adverse or unexplained effects—such as problems with their growth, organ development, damaged immune systems, damaged organs, bleeding stomachs, and increased death rates.

What does he mean “continue” to modify plants safely, when no proof exists that GE crops have been modified “safely” as it is?

It is important to know that four out of five of Obama’s science advisors come from the life sciences industry. One advisor, Gilbert Omenn, is currently a director of the biotech firm Amgen, and another advisor, Sharon Long, served on Monsanto’s board for 5 1/2 years until last fall. Upon her retirement, she commented:

“I am truly proud of Monsanto’s achievements and growth during my service as a director and look forward to the company’s continued success.”

Long and the life sciences industry have the ear of yet another administration.

Obama is in the process of formulating policy, assembling his transition team, and considering nominees for Secretary of Agriculture, among other important positions. The Secretary of Agriculture is responsible for directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its $90 billion annual budget, including the National Organic Program, food stamp and nutrition programs, and agriculture subsidies.

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack has emerged as the frontrunner for the post of Agriculture Secretary in the Obama cabinet. Vilsack specializes in agribusiness as an attorney and was awarded “Governor of the Year” by the Biotechnology Industry Organization in 2001.

Elevating Vilsack is a sign that the Obama administration could continue treating agricultural policy as if the relevant constituency is food producers rather than food consumers.

Additionally, Obama just appointed Michael Taylor to his transition team for agriculture and energy. In Shedding Light on Genetically Engineered Food, I mentioned Michael Taylor’s influence on behalf of Monsanto in Chapter 3 under the section “Revolving Door”:

Michael Taylor went to work for the FDA during the Carter administration, and at one point, was staff lawyer and executive assistant to the commissioner of the FDA. Taylor left the FDA to be a partner in the law firm of King & Spaulding and became the firm’s food and drug law (FDA) specialist, where he supervised a nine-lawyer group whose clients included Monsanto. During his ten years at King & Spaulding, Taylor represented Monsanto’s efforts to gain FDA approval for Posilac (rBGH). Taylor wrote articles opposing the Delaney Clause, a 1958 federal law prohibiting the introduction of known carcinogens into processed foods, which had been opposed by Monsanto and other chemical and pesticide companies.

In 1991, he left the law firm to rejoin the FDA under George Bush, Sr., this time as deputy commissioner for policy when the agency was reviewing rBGH. It was in 1994 during the Clinton administration that Monsanto’s GE hormone, one of the most controversial drug applications in the history of the FDA, was approved under Taylor ’s influence.

Taylor was also instrumental in writing the FDA’s rBGH labeling guidelines that would prohibit dairy corporations from making any distinction between products produced with or without rBGH. Just days after Taylor’s policy was implemented, King & Spaulding—still representing Monsanto—filed a suit against two dairy farms that had labeled their milk rBGH-free.

In response, the Foundation for Economic Trends petitioned the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate Taylor ’s conflict of interest. Three members of Congress then asked the General Accounting Office to investigate. Within days of the complaint, Taylor left the FDA to work for the USDA as the administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, a position he held from 1994 to 1996.

After representing Monsanto at King & Spaulding and having worked at the FDA and the USDA, Taylor went directly to Monsanto to work as vice president of public policy in the late 1990s.

And once again he is in a position of influence, this time as a member of the Obama transition team.

Of course we all hope for positive change with a new administration. But the point here is not to wait for a labeling law or expect Washington to change the regulatory system before you take action. The way for change to happen with GE food is if we drive this on a consumer level and stop eating it. Call food manufacturers and tell them you don’t want GE food or ingredients. If food processors stop accepting GE crops because of consumer rejection, the agriculture biotech industry won’t have a market.

If you would like to voice your opinion about GE food to President-Elect Obama and his transition team, you can comment at: http://www.change.gov/page/s/yourvision.

www.TheTruthAboutGMOs.com

Take Action Now: Unlabeled genetically engineered sugar, chimeras, and drugs slipped into your food

Auto Date Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Forget the hype about it feeding the world, yielding more crops, needing fewer pesticides, and other nonsense, genetically engineered (GE) food is solely about profits and corporate control over farmers and the global food supply.

By entering into contracts with biotech companies, farmers have to buy seeds from a biotech company, use a company’s patented chemicals along with those seeds, and then they are not permitted to save seeds.  It is astounding when you realize that about eighty percent of the world’s farmers rely on seed saving.

Just as critically, none of the GE foods on the market today have ever been proven safe for human consumption. Independent scientific evidence has shown that human health effects of eating GE food can include toxic and allergic reactions, antibiotic resistance, immune suppression, and other serious illnesses.

Why do people continue to mistakenly believe (and some passionately defend this misguided notion) that GE crops feed the world and help the environment by reducing pesticide use?  Perhaps it’s because the government and the biotechnology industry expend questionable efforts to “educate” consumers, the media, and politicians with propaganda championing GE food as safe and necessary. 

To sell the public on GE food, they have methodically promised a variety of benefits, such as higher crop yields, fewer pesticides, longer shelf life, and more.

In April 2008, a published UN report, the work of more than 400 international scientists, concluded that GE crops “will not play a substantial role in addressing the key problems of climate change, biodiversity loss, hunger, and poverty.”

GE crops fail to deliver benefits, while consumers assume all of the health risks.  Food prices are soaring, people continue to go hungry worldwide, and the use of pesticides with GE crops is escalating. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data reveals that in the ten years after the 1994 introduction of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops, herbicide use increased by fifteen times.

In addition to the major GE foods currently on grocery store shelves today (soy, corn, canola, cotton, and dairy products), these new categories of GE foods – GE sugar, GE farm animals, and pharmaceutical plants – have also never been proven safe for human consumption and may be on your dinner table soon – if not already.

Genetically Engineered Sugar:

We have all been advised to stay away from high fructose corn syrup and the like…and if trying to avoid GE corn sweetener, we might opt for sugar anyway. Think again, because now Monsanto has convinced the USDA to deregulate their GE sugar beets. In fact, thousands of acres of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GE sugar beets have already been planted, and GE sugar is expected to enter the food supply this year.

Sugar beets account for more than half of U.S. production of sugar, while the rest is produced using sugarcane. Americans consume about 10 million tons of refined sugar each year and about 12 tons of corn sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup.

With the introduction of GE sugar beets, the two leading sweeteners consumed in the U.S. will now be derived from GE corn and GE sugar beets. Because U.S. law does not require labeling of GE ingredients, consumers of products from candy to breakfast cereal will be unknowingly eating GE sugar, with unknown health consequences.

But wait a minute, why are they engineering our sweeteners? What does that have to do with feeding the world?

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) sent a letter to Kellogg’s in June, requesting the company not use sugar from GE sugar beets in its products or face a consumer boycott. Even though Kellogg’s products are GE-free in Europe, the company responded to OCA’s request, claiming that U.S. consumers do not care if their food contains GE ingredients or not – especially if they don’t even know what they are, what potential health hazards they pose, or that GE ingredients are already in their food!

To find out more about GE sugar and to sign OCA’s petition, visit OCA’s webpage at http://www.organicconsumers.org/kelloggs.cfm.

Genetically Engineered Meat:

Taking this into a new and different direction, scientists have also been tinkering to create chimeras, farm animals with a variety of cross-species characteristics – also to be served up, unknowingly, for public consumption.

Fast-growing fish, super-sized and featherless chickens, goats engineered with spider genes to produce silk in their milk, pigs carrying mouse and bacterial genes…these and more are headed to your dinner table without your knowledge. The ethics of such unlabeled, untested, and unsafe aberrations of animals in our food supply have clearly not been considered.

In September 2008, the FDA proposed that they will only review GE animals for their safety as food – and will not require any labeling. Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, said,

It is incomprehensible to us that FDA does not view these animals as different from their conventional counterparts [i.e. a cow is a cow regardless of how it was created or where it came from]…In our view, consumers have a right to know if the ham, bacon or pork chops they are buying come from pigs that have been engineered with mouse genes.

Just because something was created in the laboratory, doesn’t mean we should have to eat it. Sign the Consumers Union’s petition before November 18, 2008 and show the FDA that we want to know what’s in our food at: https://secure.consumersunion.org/site/SPageServer?pagename=NIMF_Frankenfood&JServSessionIdr001=43k3dol5s1.app46a.

Pharmaceutical (“Pharma”) Crops:

On another front, drug and biotech companies are using food crops to produce pharmaceutical drugs, hormones, and vaccines; industrial chemicals such as detergent enzymes, bio-fuels, and plastics; research chemicals; and untested food additives and supplements.

Corporations do not typically disclose the types of chemicals that are being developed—they classify this information as “confidential business information.” Keep in mind, hundreds of pharma-crop products are in the pipeline.

These drugs and chemicals were never meant to be eaten by the general public, yet the potential for human health effects could be massive if they wind up in common foods such as corn chips, breakfast cereal, snack foods, and baby food.

In October 2008, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) denounced newly proposed USDA rules governing GE crops, including food crops engineered to produce pharmaceutical and industrial products. The proposed USDA regulations would not protect the U.S. food supply from potential contamination by drugs from pharma-crops.

The key here is that the agency could allow certain levels of drugs in food that the USDA says are “safe” to eat.

However, as we know, U.S. regulatory agencies often rely on advisory committees made up of outside experts to offer “science-based” advice, and those panels typically include—and are sometimes dominated by—scientists or researchers who have direct financial relationships with the companies whose products are under scrutiny.

If the above proposals for pharma-crops are enacted into law, consumers will be unaware (due to no labeling) and must accept the possibility of drugs in their common daily food choices.

Do you want the USDA deciding for you which chemicals and drug levels are “safe” for you to consume in your food? Take action by signing the UCS’s petition at: http://ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/what_you_can_do/sign-the-ucs-petition-to-the.html.

The only way for change to happen is if we drive this on a consumer, grassroots level and stop eating GE food. Call food manufacturers (almost every package has a company 800 number on it) and tell them you don’t want GE food or ingredients. If food processors stop accepting GE crops because of consumer rejection, the agriculture biotech industry won’t have a market.

In Europe, governments took a precautionary first step with regard to GE food and labeled it, which led to consumer awareness and rejection of it. Because of that, many of the same companies that use genetically engineered ingredients in the U.S. are GE-free in Europe. We can be GE-free if enough consumers become aware.

Go organic. When you buy organic, no animals are permitted to have been given antibiotics, growth hormones, or feed made from animal byproducts. No genetically engineered ingredients, irradiated ingredients, synthetic ingredients, or fertilizers made with sewage sludge are legally permitted in organic food. All of these are permitted in most conventional food production. 

Get informed and let your voice be heard. Take action and sign these petitions. Tell your friends and family about GE food and the risks. We have to act today to protect our health, our environment, and future generations. As consumers become aware, big changes can happen.

Why should you be a guinea pig for the biotech industry? Shouldn’t you be the “the Decider” when it comes to the food you eat?

By Beth H. Harrison, PhD, author of four-time award-winning Shedding Light on Genetically Engineered Food, exploring why and how you have been kept in the dark about GE foods and the risks, why these foods continue to go unlabeled, and what foods to avoid and how to take action.

www.TheTruthAboutGMOs.com

The Biotech Facade

Auto Date Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

When genetically engineered (GE) food was commercially introduced in 1994, it was touted as a solution to some of the world’s food problems. However, the promised advantages have never been realized. GE crops do not benefit consumers, do not feed the world, do not help the environment, and are not rigorously regulated – despite myths propagated by the multi-billion dollar biotechnology industry and its many front groups.

Food prices are soaring, people continue to go hungry, and the use of pesticides with GE crops is escalating. The Center for Food Safety coined GE crops “biotech snake oil: a quack cure for hunger” and said the tremendous hype surrounding biotechnology has obscured the facts. 

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture admitted “currently available [genetically modified] GM crops do not increase yield potential.” In 2004 a UN report acknowledged that “GM crops can have reduced yields” and in April 2008 another published UN report, the work of more than 400 international scientists, concluded that genetically engineered crops “will not play a substantial role in addressing the key problems of climate change, biodiversity loss, hunger, and poverty.”

More critically, GE food has never been proven safe for human consumption. Independent scientific evidence has shown that human health effects of eating GE food can include toxic and allergic reactions, antibiotic resistance, immune suppression, and other serious illnesses. 

Aided and abetted by the U.S. government, biotech corporations benefit, yet we bear the health risks. The biotech industry often claims that the safety of GE products has been certified through a rigorous approval process but as far as U.S. regulatory agencies are concerned, if a biotech company says its products are safe, that is enough for approval.

Our food is being genetically altered so that a few multinational (and chemical) corporations can gain control over farmers and the global food supply. These same corporations, responsible for Agent Orange, PCBs, and DDT, have repeatedly done business at the expense of public health. And for more than a decade, they have been reprogramming, patenting, and owning an alarming amount of the world’s food supply—without public debate.

With so many pressing issues that affect us today, nothing is more personal than the food we eat.  Even though there has been a media blackout effort regarding GE food and its risks, particularly in the United States, we are seeing a shift.  A growing global movement is rejecting GE food and is returning to sustainable and organic food. 

This is a profound time of responsibility not to rely on industry-influenced governmental agencies to protect us.  The time to embrace conscious living and to move beyond corporate-political spin is now.  We can make a difference.

Learn which foods have been genetically engineered and make other choices. Call food manufacturers and tell them you don’t want it. Get informed and tell your friends and family about GE food and the risks. We have to act today to protect our health, our environment, and future generations.

Change will only occur with an awakening of the people.

By Beth H. Harrison, PhD, author of four-time award-winning Shedding Light on Genetically Engineered Food, exploring why and how you have been kept in the dark about GE foods and the risks, why these foods continue to go unlabeled, and what foods to avoid and how to take action. 

www.TheTruthAboutGMOs.com

www.TheTruthAboutGMOs.com/blog