Last issue, we talked about the hysteria surrounding “heavy metals,” and how the issue is far more nuanced than the knee jerk fear that most people have when they hear those words. Today, we’re going to do the same with “GMO.” As it turns out, while it is true that the blanket claims of safety for GMO foods made by many government agencies and the food industry as a whole are nonsense, so too are the blanket claims of danger by the natural foods industry. Yes, there are serious reasons for concern, but the issue is too nuanced–and too important–to be argued in terms of extremist positions. The bottom line is that no matter how much we might scream to the contrary, GMO is not going away. There is too much money invested in it, and despite its dangers, too much potential in its future. As an example, even as the council of Hawaii’s Big Island signed a bill banning GMO crops from being grown on the island, they exempted the highly GMO’d papaya industry because it has 200 farms on the island.
Even more disturbing is the fact that if you think you’re covered by just going to Whole Foods and buying nothing but non-GMO products, you will be sadly disappointed. Because they can spread on the winds and swim through the oceans, GMO products can impact you no matter where you go and no matter how high you build the wall around your house. Finding non-GMO soy is becoming ever more difficult as organic crop after organic crop is becoming contaminated by GMO pollen from conventional farms. And GMO salmon are potentially just days away from being unleashed on the world’s oceans. As the saying goes, you can run but you can’t hide.
On a more positive note, even though it can’t be stopped, it can be managed. If enough people shift their efforts from fruitlessly trying to hold back the tide to instead working to effectively regulate it, GMO can be safely controlled…more or less. And thanks to General Mills and Cheerios, GMO is once again front and center in the news as General Mills rang in the New Year by announcing that their Original Cheerios would soon be GMO-free. In fact, the company announced this as a major event that would include “significant investment” in non-GMO ingredient sourcing and in changes to their production facilities so that they would be non-GMO too. The natural foods industry was all a Twitter, speculating as to whether or not this was the beginning of a trend and whether or not it ultimately spelled doom for Monsanto.
The truth, of course, like everything about GMO, is something other than it first appears. For General Mills, the changes required to make Cheerios non-GMO were almost non-existent. The ingredients in Cheerios are whole grain oats, corn starch, sugar, salt, tripotassium phosphate (a buffering agent), wheat starch, and a vitamin/mineral mix. Let’s take a look at these ingredients individually.
- Oats. The simple fact is that there is no such thing as GMO oats, and it’s unlikely there will ever be. Quite simply, there’s no money in it. There simply aren’t enough oats grown in the world to create sufficient demand to justify the cost that goes into developing genetically modified seeds. It’s also a pretty hardy crop that’s naturally pest resistant.
- Corn starch. According to the USDA, 86% of the corn grown in the US is genetically modified, this was the “big” change in Cheerios ingredient sourcing. But in truth, it represents a very small part of the formula. The most common modification in corn crops is the addition of Bt bacteria. Bt bacteria release a toxic protein that kills pests such as the corn borer. As it turns out, the pollen of GMO corn is harmful to other insects as well. It kills 44 percent of the Monarch butterfly larvae in the area. It also may be harmful to people, but more on that later.
- Sugar. Since General Mills previously used beet sugar (almost entirely GMO) as their sweetener, they simply switched to cane sugar. Obviously, high fructose corn syrup, because it is made from corn, was not an option.
- Salt. A non-issue.
- Tripotassium phosphate. Also a non-issue. (Note: tripotassium phosphate is NOT the same as trisodium phosphate, the industrial cleaner known as TSP. Just because compounds are chemically similar does not give them similar properties. For example, the components of salt (sodium and chlorine) are highly toxic if eaten individually, but necessary for life when eaten in combination as salt…at least in moderation.)
- Wheat starch. As of yet, there is no genetically modified wheat commercially available because of protests from farmers. (However, Monsanto is still in the game and predicts that they will be marketing a GMO wheat within the next decade.) But for now, for General Mills, it was a non-issue.
- Vitamin mineral mix. A non-issue.
The bottom line is that making Cheerios non-GMO was not a big deal for Cheerios.1 “Cheerios and GMOS: FAQS.” Cheerios. (Accessed 16 Feb 2014.) http://www.cheerios.com/en/Articles/cheerios-and-gmos#.UwF9cNGPKbg It was already 97% of the way there. This was purely a marketing ploy–a testing of the waters, if you will. But it has reignited the discussion about GMO, so let’s now explore that issue in a little more detail.
As the saying goes, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. In order to proceed with a discussion of GMO, we all have to be using the same working definition. Believe it or not, it’s not actually defined as “an evil plot by Monsanto to take over the world while at the same time dramatically reducing the world’s population.” And no, Monsanto does not get a free pass here, but more on that later. It’s just that we need a more functional definition of GMO. So let’s go with the dictionary definition: GMO (genetically modified organism) refers to an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. That’s it.
And that said, it’s important to understand that the underlying principles of genetic engineering have been going on for thousands of years. All of the different varieties of vegetable seeds, rose bushes, fruits and vegetables that you buy in the supermarket are the result of genetic engineering in the form of crosspollination. And it’s not just plants. Many breeds of cattle, dogs, and cats etc. are the result of crossbreeding, all designed to enhance certain traits and suppress others. And the results of natural crossbreeding can be quite extreme. All of the dogs that you see in the world today are descended from the original domesticated grey wolf. Think about that the next time you look at a Chihuahua or a Shar Pei. So what’s different today?
And the answer is that with crosspollination, despite what you may think on seeing a Chihuahua or Shar Pei, the limits on what nature allows are much narrower than what can be accomplished in a lab. You can’t crossbreed a tomato with a flounder, for example. Natural crossbreeding doesn’t allow it. Now, however, through the miracle of gene splicing, you can force nature to accept it. And in fact, tomatoes have been grown with flounder genes inserted in them to keep the tomatoes from freezing. By the way, this is not necessarily as bizarre as it might first sound. The truth is that animals and plants share about 25% of their DNA in common. Or to put it another way, a human being and a grain of rice share 25% identical DNA. You can swap any of those genes back and forth between people and rice without skipping a beat. Things, of course, get more interesting when you start swapping any of the other 25%. As you get closer in species, the number of genes in common climb. Humans and chimps, for example, share better than 98% of their DNA in common. Obviously, a lot can happen in that unshared 2%.
Is this swapping of unshared DNA necessarily bad? No, not necessarily. Just because nature allows something through crosspollination doesn’t automatically make it good. Nature allowed African Bees and Honeybees to crossbreed and produce Killer Bees, and the result wasn’t really that pleasant. On the other hand, some of the results of gene splicing have been positive.
- GMO crops that resist freezing are a positive, and wouldn’t the farmers back east appreciate those during the last few weeks?
- Drought resistant crops would certainly be appreciated in California right now.
- In fact, some GMO plants already do these things, and more are in the pipeline.
Don’t get me wrong. There are concerns. Strains of biotech corn have had unintended consequences such as poisoning butterflies, as we’ve already mentioned. But far and away, the biggest concern is the uncontrollability of the process. Already, scientists are pressing into some very dangerous areas. They are exploring the possibility of using genetically engineered plants to “grow” medicine. The problem is that if this is done, it is virtually guaranteed that at some point these “medicine” crops will escape. And what’s medicine for one person is poison to another. Already, it is virtually impossible to find any soy (organic or otherwise) that has not been tainted by genetically modified soy. Quite simply, it’s impossible to prevent the pollen from being carried on the wind and “infecting” clean fields.
Not to be overly dramatic, but the book/movie Jurassic Park was about this very problem. And as the Jeff Goldblum character keeps saying about the inability to control the spread of new life-forms, “Life cannot be contained. Life will find a way.”
Incidentally, Monsanto has actually sued farmers for infringing on their patents when their fields have become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetic plants.2 radyananda. “Monsanto can still sue farmers for GMO contamination event.” Food Freedom News 10 Aug 2013. 16 Feb 2014. http://foodfreedomgroup.com/2013/08/10/monsanto-can-still-sue-farmers-for-gmo-contamination-event/ What this means is that if pollen from Monsanto plants blows in and contaminates an organic farm, the farmer can actually be sued Monsanto for violating its patents–and that’s on top of the fact that the organic farmers crop and livelihood have been destroyed. That’s just evil!
For Better or Worse GMO Is Inevitable and Here to Stay
Genetic engineering is already widespread. Today, despite the Cheerios announcement, around 70 percent of all the processed food that you buy in America contains genetically engineered ingredients, including soft drinks, ketchup, potato chips, cookies, ice cream, and corn flakes. Crops in the US that are now largely GMO include alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beets, and zucchini and yellow summer squash. General Mills merely took advantage of a low cost, low risk option to see if labeling Cheerios non-GMO gave it a meaningful marketing edge over the competition. They most decidedly did not extend that decision to more costly changes such as would be required to make Kix non-GMO. Unlike Cheerios, the first four ingredients in Kix are all GMO: whole grain corn, corn meal, beet sugar, and corn bran. When General Mills announces that Kix is going non-GMO that will actually mean something. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Ultimately, GMO will keep moving forward because it often fills a particular need (resistance to pests, drought, freezing, etc.) or is economically preferable. Look at the European Union (EU), which regulates food stuffs for all its members. The EU has the toughest standards in the world for getting GMO products approved. Nevertheless, as of 2012, they had already approved 48 GMOs, although mostly for animal feed. More to the point, they have indeed approved several GMO food crops for cultivation in the EU including a Bt expressing corn that provides resistance to the European corn borer (fills a particular need) and something called Amflora potato, which was developed by the German company, BASF, that has a higher than normal yield of potato starch (economically preferable). So much for the EU’s total resistance to GMO.
The other thing to keep in mind, is that genetic modification is now so easy and inexpensive to accomplish, that it is impossible to stop. Stop it in Europe and the US, and it will continue in Africa and Asia. Keep in mind that whereas DNA sequencing once cost millions and millions of dollars and took many months of super computer time, it can now be done for $99–and still turn a profit.3 Andy Coghlan. “23andMe ordered to stop selling $99 genetic test.” 26 Nov 2013. NewScientist. (Accessed 23 Feb 2014.) http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24656-23andme-ordered-to-stop-selling-99-genetic-test.html Trying to stop GMO is a bit like ordering the tide not to come in. Just ask King Canute how well that works.4 Kathryn Westcott. “Is King Canute misunderstood?” 26 May 2011. BBC News Magazine. (Accessed 26 Feb 2014.) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-13524677 The bottom line is that given the inevitability of its coming, we need to figure out better ways to regulate it, label it, and prevent dangerous iterations of it from destroying the environment.
Is GMO Safe
GMO plants designed to resist harsh environments or produce more proteins or starches and the like appear to be safe to consume, for the most part. In this regard, they are no different than natural organisms or organisms produced through crosspollination. Keep in mind, just because something is natural or organic is no guarantee that it’s safe. Or to put it another way, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever see all organic, natural angel mushrooms5 “Destroying Angel.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Destroying_angel in your Whole Foods produce section anytime soon.
But make no mistake, GMO products do not get an automatic clean bill of health. In fact, there is a heavy cloud that hangs over all of the GMO plants designed to resist pests–at least so far.
Earlier, we mentioned Bt expressing corn and cotton. Let’s talk a little more about them now in terms of safety. Bt refers to a bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis that produces a toxic protein that is activated in the insect gut, which is alkaline. The theory is that humans can safely eat these crops because the human gut is acidic. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true as pH varies in the human intestinal tract and can actually be slightly alkaline in parts of the tract such as the ileum. But anyway, back to the corn borer. In the alkaline environment of its intestinal tract, the protein partially unfolds and is cut by other proteins, forming a toxin that paralyzes the insect’s digestive system and forms holes in the gut wall. The insect stops eating within a few hours and subsequently starves. Actually, spores of the bacteria have been sprayed on crops since the early 1900’s as a pesticide. So it’s not like you haven’t been consuming them for decades. GMO Bt crops simply eliminate the need for spraying by expressing the Bt protein throughout the plant. Is it safe? There are rat studies that indicate Bt corn can cause liver and kidney damage.6 Gilles-Eric Séralini, Dominique Cellier, Joël Spiroux de Vendomois, “New Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with a Genetically Modified Maize Reveals Signs of Hepatorenal Toxicity.” Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. May 2007, Volume 52, Issue 4, pp 596-602. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00244-006-0149-5 ,7 Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, François Roullier, Dominique Cellier, Gilles-Eric Séralini. “A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health.” Int J Biol Sci. 2009; 5(7): 706–726. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793308 To be precise, these are limited rat studies, and as I’ve discussed in previous newsletters, rat studies are hardly definitive when it comes to people. But there is more disturbing evidence available concerning the use of the Bt gene in crops. Studies and field observations in Andhra Pradesh and other states in India have shown that sheep, goats, cattle, and buffalo populations exhibit morbidity and mortality after continuous and cumulative exposure to Bt Cotton.8 “Mortality in Sheep Flocks after grazing on Bt Cotton fields –Warangal District, Andhra Pradesh.” Report of the Preliminary Assessment April, 2006. (Accessed 18 Feb 2014. http://indiagminfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/April-2006-FFT-rpt-anthra-csa-union.pdf Again, not definitive for people, but certainly disturbing.
When it comes to resisting weeds, which are another type of pest for farmers that reduces profitability, Monsanto took a different approach. Instead of building the toxin to resist the weeds into their GMO corn, they instead genetically built resistance to Round-Up weed killer into the plant. This allows farmers to douse their fields in weed killer without harming the crop. And here too, the evidence, although not conclusive, is disturbing.
The primary evidence against Round-Up Ready Corn is a rat study published in 2012 in Food and Chemical Toxicology that found that rats fed on it seemed to have more tumors than a control group. But, again, a solitary rat study is hardly definitive. In fact, statistically, rat studies have only about a 20% chance of relating to humans. Also, it needs to be noted that Roundup Ready Corn was first commercialized in 1998. In other words, it’s been eaten en masse for some 14 years, and there’s no sign yet that it’s producing results in humans anything like what was seen in the rat study. Are cancer rates up? Absolutely, but they were up for years prior to the introduction of Roundup Ready Corn. There is no evidence of any spike since its introduction. There is the question of time, of course. Perhaps not enough time has elapsed to notice its impact. But so far, there is no indication that the results of this study translate directly to humans.
Furthermore, the rats in the study fed higher doses of Roundup pesticide or GMO corn didn’t consistently get sicker than those fed lower doses. In fact, some rats fed higher doses had better health outcomes. Another curiosity is that the study got the identical results from two entirely independent treatments. The rats fed straight Roundup and the rats fed Roundup Ready Corn, but with no Roundup in it got exactly the same tumors. That’s pretty much a nonsensical result. And maybe most important of all, the strain of lab rats used in the study (Sprague-Dawley albino strain Crl:CD(SD)IGS BR®) is predisposed to tumors, especially mammary tumors such as those seen in the study rats. By about 2 years of age, on average, about 80% of this strain of rats will get tumors–just from being alive–regardless of what they eat or are exposed to. Since the study ran two years, you do the math.
And that’s not all. There are other serious issues with the study’s methodology and assumptions that render its conclusions somewhat less than definitive. But for those, you can check out the newsletter where I explored that issue in some detail. But that’s not the fascinating information associated with the study. In December of 2013, Elsevier, the publisher of Food and Chemical Technology retracted the article because it “felt” the study’s results were inconclusive, and therefore did not “reach the threshold of publication for Food and Chemical Toxicology.” At first, this might seem to be in agreement with my assessment of the study, but not so. In fact, it was retracted under the pressure of a viral campaign spearheaded by a public relations firm that specializes in viral marketing…and that is frequently employed by Monsanto. But wait, it gets even better. Elsevier’s retraction closely followed the appointment of a new associate editor to Food and Chemical Toxicology.9 Robinson, Claire. “Journal retraction of Seralini study is illegal, unscientific, and unethical.” 27 November 2013. GM Watch. 30 November 2013. http://www.gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archive/2013/15184-journal-retraction-of-seralini-study-is-illicit-unscientific-and-unethical And guess where that new editor used to work? That’s right! Richard E. Goodman came to Elsevier right from Monsanto and is still an affiliate of the GMO industry-funded group, the International Life Sciences Institute. It’s also interesting to note that since Goodman’s appointment, another study that associated GMO corn with thrombosis also was retracted. That’s just evil.
The bottom line is that when it comes to safety in terms of human consumption, the vast majority of GMO products appear to be relatively safe–or at least benign–with the exception of those GMO products designed around herbicides or pesticides such as Bt corn, Bt cotton, and Round-Up Ready corn.
GMO and the Environment
When it comes to GMO, human safety is only the tip of the iceberg. To me, the biggest problem with genetically modified organisms is their real and potential impact on the environment, which ultimately seriously does impact human health. Quite simply, life has a mind of its own. As Jeff Goldblum repeats over and over in Jurassic Park, “Life will not be contained.” This is not theoretical. We’ve already seen it multiple times. Forget GMO for a moment and just think of Kudzu in the South,10 Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kudzu_in_the_United_States Asian carp in the Great Lakes,11 Added by Robert Shepherd. “Asian Carp Taking Over Lake Michigan.” February 18, 2014. Liberty Voice. (Accessed 22 Feb 2014) http://guardianlv.com/2014/02/asian-carp-taking-over-lake-michigan and Pythons in the Everglades.12 “Burmese Pythons.” National Park Service. (Accessed 22 Feb 2014.) http://www.nps.gov/ever/naturescience/burmesepythonsintro.htm Despite the best human efforts and millions and millions of dollars to prevent their spread, all three are relentless spreading throughout the United States. And when it comes to GMO, we’ve already discussed the contamination of organic soy crops by GMO variants. And it’s not just plants, GMO animals too represent a huge environmental threat. GMO salmon have already proven uncontainable in their pens and have escaped into the wild where, with their larger size and more aggressive sexual natures, they are able to outbreed the local wild salmon and are decimating their populations. Yes, but how does aggressive breeding decimate salmon populations? Wouldn’t you just be replacing one variety with another? No! The GMO salmon are sterile. When they breed with the wild population, the result is no offspring, and that’s why local populations are decimated.
How widespread is this? Not very–yet–but that’s because GMO salmon hasn’t been formally approved for commercial farming by the FDA. That approval, however, despite the extension under public pressure of the comment period by 60 days,13 “FDA Extends Comment Period on AquAdvantage Salmon Documents.” FDA February 13, 2013. (Accessed 22 Feb 2014.) http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm339270.htm is currently moving inexorably forward. Once approved for commercial farming, its impact on wild salmon populations is likely to be catastrophic. Again, as Jeff Goldblum said, “Life cannot be contained. Life finds a way.” And we all know how that worked out in Jurassic Park.
GMO and Local Farming Economies
One of the major problems with GMO is that most of the work is being done by for-profit companies like Monsanto and AquaBounty. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. If they’re spending the research dollars to produce something valuable that doesn’t kill people or destroy the environment, they deserve to get paid for it. In large countries with well-developed agricultural systems, that’s not such a big problem. Their pricing structures and farm subsidies make it economically viable. But in less well-developed countries, where agriculture is the province of much smaller farmers who function at slightly better than subsistence levels, the effects can be devastating.
The problem with Monsanto’s methods for guaranteeing their profits is that once you buy into their seed program, you are locked in for life. To replant your fields, you have to rebuy Monsanto’s seeds every year…again, for life. And if, in the end, you can’t afford it, you’re screwed. You go into debt; you go bankrupt; you go under. In India, for example, Monsanto charges 1600 rupees, or about $26, per 450 gram packet of seed. That may not sound like much at first, but for the farmers who switched to Bt cotton, it meant a jump of 8000% in the cost of their seed. They bought into this because Monsanto’s representatives convinced them that the reduction in pesticide costs and the improved resistance of the crop to cotton bores would more than offset the price differential. For large mega farms, it may do that. But for small farmers, the return is much more problematic. The net result is that 284,694 small farmers in India have, in recent times, committed suicide because of the debt trap they were led into.14 Dr Vandana Shiva. “Seed Monopolies, GMOs And Farmers Suicides In India.” 10 January, 2014. CounterCurrents.org. (Accessed 22 Feb 2014.) http://www.countercurrents.org/shiva100114.htm That’s evil.
So What Exactly is my Position on GMO?
I believe that it is inevitable and unstoppable, so we need to figure out how to deal with it.
GMO is not as universally repugnant and dangerous as many in the alternative health community believe; nor is it by any means as safe and controllable as genetic engineering companies and many governments would have us believe. We need to figure out how to take advantage of the good while minimizing the harm from the bad. I know it feels good to take an absolutist position and “insist” that all GMO be banned forever, but, as we’ve already discussed it’s not going to happen. It can’t happen. The genie’s out of the bottle. And if you keep insisting on the impossible, you never get to accomplish the useful.
GMO is too important to leave in the hands of for-profit companies. More GMO development of useful, non-toxic, non-environmentally damaging products such as faster growing and drought resistant crops must be undertaken by governments and non-profits, as opposed to the Monsantos of the world, so that at least some of the fundamental benefits can be made available to small farmers throughout the world without bankrupting them by repeatedly requiring them to buy sterile seeds year after year, merely so a company can guarantee reorders. Again, I have no problem with Monsanto making a profit. I do have a problem when hundreds of thousands of small farmers are squeezed into switching to their GMO crops only to lose their farms and commit suicide. That’s just evil.
We also need to move GMO away from the herbicide and pesticide versions. This is where most of the possible health and environmental issues lie. And the benefits, other than for the companies that make them, are questionable. In fact, some studies suggest that the traditional methods of breeding corn and soy actually increase yields more than Monsanto’s GMO versions.15 Jack A. Heinemannab, Melanie Massarobc, Dorien S. Corayab, et al. “Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest.” International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. Published online: 14 Jun 2013. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14735903.2013.806408#.Uw0bkdGPJxR Why risk health, environment, and the lives of small farmers merely so one company can make huge profits.
I also believe that we should never allow the use of GMO crops for producing medicines. Given the Jurassic Parkian uncontrollable nature of life, it is simply too dangerous.
The future of GMO lies in creating crops that can better withstand our changing environment and that have higher nutritional value. Make no mistake–and political pundits can argue the cause–but climate change is upon us. The need for crops that can withstand unprecedented droughts and temperature swings is now undeniable. And the future of GMO also lies in developing crops with higher nutritional value. Obviously, you can’t make crops increase their mineral content if the minerals are no longer in the soil, but you can develop crops that have increased antioxidants and phytonutrients. These are the two areas in which GMO has a future that is beneficial to people, doesn’t kill them, and could enhance rather than destroy the environment.
Despite what some people viewed as my opposition to GMO labeling (Prop 37), on the contrary, I am 100% in favor of it. In fact, I believe that proper GMO labeling is mandatory. I’m just opposed to bad laws.
- I believe that labeling has to be regulated nationally, not locally, or regionally. If every state in the United States has its own regulations, no one would actually know what a GMO label or statement meant since each local government would define its terms differently.
- Whereas some GMO foods such as certain varieties of soy and corn can be easily strip tested for identifying protein markers, others not so much. And as the number of GMO crops increases, the ability to accurately test will progressively become more difficult and more expensive to test at the local level.
- Also, local or state-by-state regulations of this type are simply unenforceable. No state or city has the money to make sure everyone is properly complying. They would be forced to turn to bounty hunters and carpetbaggers as California has to enforce Prop 65. This does nothing to improve safety. It merely serves as a windfall for class action lawyers looking to extort money from companies that have done nothing wrong but need to avoid litigation. In the end, it crushes smaller companies (which include many of the more conscientious and creative companies), while allowing larger companies with deeper pockets to survive. Bottom line: it costs you more without improving your health. (Note: I do not have a personal stake in this issue. Although Baseline Nutritionals was approached by these lawyers, we were easily able to make them go away without even involving our legal teams. My concern is for all of the other good companies I know that were not so fortunate.)
- It would also be a nightmare in terms of ingredient sourcing with each state imposing its own standards, while many states would have none at all. Forget just worrying if your nutritional ingredients come from China, now you would have to verify sources state by state, or even city by city. And companies and manufacturers would have to track that too. It’s not as simple as it sounds–and it doesn’t sound that easy. Frequently, larger manufacturers have to acquire their ingredients from multiple sources to fill their needs. How would you label an ingredient that was a blend from sources in several states?
Again, I am passionately in favor of proper GMO labeling, but it must be national or regional. And it must be all inclusive, without bought and paid for exemptions as we saw with Prop 37 in California. There should be no exemptions. If any GMO ingredients are included in a product, we should know about it.
We should have access to all study data, not just what Monsanto decides is in their best interest to release. Without that information, it’s impossible to make an intelligent decision as to what GMO ingredients you’re willing to eat and which ones you want to avoid…or even boycott. The bottom line, as we’ve discussed, is that not all GMO is the same. When you think about it, is drought resistant GMO corn, really more dangerous to your health than the high gluten, high gliadin wheat that is now sold in stores as the result of centuries of natural crosspollination? We need to make rational choices here, not emotional ones. The free market needs access to the information that will allow it to make an informed decision as to what it wants to buy.
I also believe that if we had a true, all-inclusive national GMO labeling law, it should include a provision that bans the use of labels such as either “non-GMO” or “does not contain GMO ingredients.” Hey, I understand, I use that label now on my own products, but that’s because there is no mandatory GMO labeling. We need a way to inform our customers. But given a true national GMO labeling law, calling things non-GMO merely creates clutter and confuses the issue. There are far, far more non-GMO than GMO ingredients. Before you know it, people will be marketing non-GMO water. You think that’s over-the-top and will never happen? On the contrary. Some bottled water companies are already marketing their water as “gluten free,”16 “Defining Gluten-Free: An FDA Conundrum.” 3 May 2011. Wellness Made Natural. (Accessed 22 Feb 2014.) http://wellnessmadenatural.com/2011/05/03/defining-gluten-free-an-fda-conundrum/ which is pretty nonsensical when you think about it. Can non-GMO water be far behind? If the use of the phrase “non-GMO” is uncontrolled, it eventually destroy any meaning associated with any GMO labeling.
A viable enforcement mechanism needs to be installed. As currently constituted, with only 14,000 employees total17 http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AboutFDA/ReportsManualsForms/Reports/BudgetReports/UCM301553.pdf including office staff, secretaries, filing clerks, etc. , there is no way the FDA can take on something as complex as overseeing the enforcement of GMO labeling along with the other tasks it already has.
- Oh, and whoever is in charge of enforcement, whether they work for the FDA, the EPA, or the USDA, they absolutely, categorically, and unequivocally cannot be retired Monsanto executives,18 emmaspeaks. “The Revolving Door Between Monsanto, the FDA, and the EPA: Your Safety in Peril.” January 15, 2014. A Sheep No More. (Accessed 22 Feb 2014.) http://asheepnomore.net/2014/01/15/revolving-door-monsanto-fda-epa-safety-peril which seems to be the current job requirement. That’s just evil.
And while everyone is focusing on satisfying their need to buy non-GMO products for personal consumption, it is imperative that we do not lose sight of the larger environmental issues associated with GMO. If enough GMO salmon escape into the wild, where will you be able to buy non-GMO salmon in the future? Already it’s becoming almost impossible to buy non-GMO soy as more and more organic soy crops are becoming contaminated by GMO pollen drifting in on the wind. And this is just a hint of what’s coming–the first chill of winter if you will. If we don’t keep our eyes on the big picture and get GMO addressed nationally AND honestly, if we think we’re okay as long as we can personally buy non-GMO labeled products in a health food store, we may find that in a few years we’re knee-deep in snow, metaphorically speaking, unable to find 100% non-GMO products no matter how hard we look…or what store we go to.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||“Cheerios and GMOS: FAQS.” Cheerios. (Accessed 16 Feb 2014.) http://www.cheerios.com/en/Articles/cheerios-and-gmos#.UwF9cNGPKbg|
|2.||↑||radyananda. “Monsanto can still sue farmers for GMO contamination event.” Food Freedom News 10 Aug 2013. 16 Feb 2014. http://foodfreedomgroup.com/2013/08/10/monsanto-can-still-sue-farmers-for-gmo-contamination-event/|
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