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CONSUMERS & REGULATION: Why aren't G.M.O. foods labeled in the USA?



                                  PART 1


------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   WHY AREN'T G.M.O. FOODS LABELED?

SOURCE:  The New York Times, USA

AUTHOR:  Mark Bittman

URL:     http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/why-arent-g-m-o-foods-labeled/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DATE:    15.02.2011

SUMMARY: "If you want to avoid sugar, aspartame, trans-fats, MSG, or just about anything else, you read the label. If you want to avoid G.M.O.?s ? genetically modified organisms ? you?re out of luck. They?re not listed. You could, until now, simply buy organic foods, which by law can?t contain more than 5 percent G.M.O.?s. Now, however, even that may not work."

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WHY AREN'T G.M.O. FOODS LABELED?

If you want to avoid sugar, aspartame, trans-fats, MSG, or just about anything else, you read the label. If you want to avoid G.M.O.?s ? genetically modified organisms ? you?re out of luck. They?re not listed. You could, until now, simply buy organic foods, which by law can?t contain more than 5 percent G.M.O.?s. Now, however, even that may not work.

In the last three weeks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved three new kinds of genetically engineered (G.E.) foods: alfalfa (which becomes hay), a type of corn grown to produce ethanol), and sugar beets. And super-fast-growing salmon ? the first genetically modified animal to be sold in the U.S., but probably not the last ? may not be far behind.

It?s unlikely that these products? potential benefits could possibly outweigh their potential for harm. But even more unbelievable is that the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S.D.A. will not require any of these products, or foods containing them, to be labeled as genetically engineered, because they don?t want to ?suggest or imply? that these foods are ?different.? (Labels with half-truths about health benefits appear to be O.K., but that?s another story.)

They are arguably different, but more important, people are leery of them. Nearly an entire continent ? it?s called Europe ? is so wary that G.E. crops are barely grown there and there are strict bans on imports (that policy is in danger). Furthermore, most foods containing more than 0.9 percent G.M.O.?s must be labeled.

G.E. products may grow faster, require fewer pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides, and reduce stress on land, water and other resources; they may be more profitable to farmers. But many of these claims are in dispute, and advances in conventional agriculture, some as simple as drip irrigation, may achieve these same goals more simply. Certainly conventional agriculture is more affordable for poor farmers, and most of the worlds? farmers are poor. (The surge in suicides among Indian farmers has been attributed by some, at least in part, to G.E. crops, and it?s entirely possible that what?s needed to feed the world?s hungry is not new technology but a better distribution system and a reduction of waste.)

To be fair, two of the biggest fears about G.E. crops and animals ? their potential to provoke allergic reactions and the transfer to humans of antibiotic-resistant properties of G.M.O.?s ? have not come to pass. (As far as I can tell, though, they remain real dangers.) But there has been cross-breeding of natural crops and species with those that have been genetically engineered, and when ethanol corn cross-pollinates feed corn, the results could degrade the feed corn; when G.E. alfalfa cross-pollinates organic alfalfa, that alfalfa is no longer organic; if a G.E. salmon egg is fertilized by a wild salmon, or a transgenic fish escapes into the wild and breeds with a wild fish ? it?s not clear what will happen.

This last scenario is impossible, say the creators of the G.E. salmon ? a biotech company called AquaBounty ? whose interest in approval makes their judgment all but useless. (One Fish and Wildlife Service scientist wrote in material obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, ?Maybe they should watch ?Jurassic Park.? ?)

But the testing process is suspect: the F.D.A. relied on data submitted by AquaBounty (that data is for fish raised in Prince Edward Island, even though the company plans to raise the fish in Panama, which is possibly illegal).

Also curious is that the salmon is being categorized as a ?new animal drug? which means that the advisory committee in charge of evaluating it is composed mostly of veterinarians and animal scientists, instead of, say, fish ecologists or experts in food safety. Not surprisingly, the biotech industry has spent over half a billion dollars on G.M.O. lobbyists in the last decade, and Michael Taylor, the F.D.A. deputy commissioner for foods, was once vice president for public policy at Monsanto. Numerous groups of consumers, farmers, environmental advocates, scientists, supporters of organic food and now even congressmen ? last week, a bill was introduced to ban G.E. salmon ? believe that the approval process demonstrated a bias towards the industry.

Cross-breeding is guaranteed with alfalfa and likely with corn. (The U.S.D.A. claims to be figuring out ways to avoid this happening, but by then the damage may already be done.) And the organic dairy industry is going to suffer immediate and frightening losses when G.E. alfalfa is widely grown, since many dairy cows eat dried alfalfa (hay), and the contamination of organic alfalfa means the milk of animals fed with that hay can no longer be called organic. Likewise, when feed corn is contaminated by G.E. ethanol corn, the products produced from it won?t be organic. (On the one hand, U.S.D.A. joins the F.D.A. in not seeing G.E. foods as materially different; on the other it limits the amount found in organic foods. Hello? Guys? Could you at least pretend to be consistent?)

The subject is unquestionably complex. Few people outside of scientists working in the field ? self included ? understand much of anything about gene altering. Still, an older ABC poll found that a majority of Americans believe that G.M.O.?s are unsafe, even more say they?re less likely to buy them, and a more recent CBS/NYT poll found a whopping 87 percent ? you don?t see a poll number like that too often ? wants them labeled.

In the long run, genetic engineering may prove to be useful. Or not. The science is adolescent at best; not even its strongest advocates can guarantee that there aren?t hidden dangers. So consumers are understandably cautious, and whether that?s justified or paranoid, it would seem we have a right to know as much as Europeans do.

Even more than questionable approvals, it?s the unwillingness to label these products as such ? even the G.E. salmon will be sold without distinction ? that is demeaning and undemocratic, and the real reason is clear: producers and producer-friendly agencies correctly suspect that consumers will steer clear of G.E. products if they can identify them. Which may make them unprofitable. Where is the free market when we need it?

A majority of our food already contains G.M.O.?s, and there?s little reason to think more isn?t on the way. It seems our ?regulators? are using us and the environment as guinea pigs, rather than demanding conclusive tests. And without labeling, we have no say in the matter whatsoever.



                                  PART 2

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   GMO FOOD BILLS REJECTED

SOURCE:  Star Advertiser, USA

AUTHOR:  

URL:     http://www.staradvertiser.com/news/hawaiinews/20110214_GMO_food_bills_rejected.html

DATE:    14.02.2011

SUMMARY: "The Senate Agriculture committee voted Feb. 1 to kill Senate Bill 713, which would have required genetically engineered foods to carry prominent GMO labels, and SB 711, which would have required labels on genetically modified fish. [...] ?The perception here is that there is something inherently wrong with this technology, which is contrary to what is widely accepted by the scientific community,? said Russell Kokubun, chairman of the state Board of Agriculture."

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GMO FOOD BILLS REJECTED

Bills to require genetically modified food to be labeled as such have been taken off the table this legislative session.

The Senate Agriculture committee voted Feb. 1 to kill Senate Bill 713, which would have required genetically engineered foods to carry prominent GMO labels, and SB 711, which would have required labels on genetically modified fish.

Critics of the measures argued that identifying genetically modified food in this way would discriminate against local farmers who use biotech crops.

?The perception here is that there is something inherently wrong with this technology, which is contrary to what is widely accepted by the scientific community,? said Russell Kokubun, chairman of the state Board of Agriculture.

Kokubun told lawmakers that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have determined that there is no significant difference between genetically modified and non-GMO crops.

Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club?s Hawaii chapter, told lawmakers that GMO food holds unforeseen risks that are important to consumers.

Bills to require genetically modified food to be labeled as such have been taken off the table this legislative session.

The Senate Agriculture committee voted Feb. 1 to kill Senate Bill 713, which would have required genetically engineered foods to carry prominent GMO labels, and SB 711, which would have required labels on genetically modified fish.

Critics of the measures argued that identifying genetically modified food in this way would discriminate against local farmers who use biotech crops.

?The perception here is that there is something inherently wrong with this technology, which is contrary to what is widely accepted by the scientific community,? said Russell Kokubun, chairman of the state Board of Agriculture.

Kokubun told lawmakers that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have determined that there is no significant difference between genetically modified and non-GMO crops.

Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club?s Hawaii chapter, told lawmakers that GMO food holds unforeseen risks that are important to consumers.



                                  PART 3

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   REJECTING GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS

SOURCE:  The Cornell Daily Sun, USA

AUTHOR:  Elisabeth Rosen

URL:     http://www.cornellsun.com/section/opinion/content/2011/02/15/rejecting-genetically-modified-foods

DATE:    15.02.2011

SUMMARY: "In an effort to increase their pesticide sales, biotechnology companies like Monsanto ? which also controls a large percentage of the seed market -? have altered the DNA of foods like corn and soybeans to make them less vulnerable to pesticides. This means that they can be sprayed with more weedkiller and other chemicals. Unless you buy organic food, there is no way to avoid this problem."

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REJECTING GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS

Picture a supermarket where half the foods contain toxic chemicals. All the contaminated food is clearly labeled, with the health risks displayed on the side of the container. Would you buy the contaminated food?

This situation is not hypothetical. If you?ve ever eaten corn, tofu or canola oil, you?ve been exposed to such foods. In an effort to increase their pesticide sales, biotechnology companies like Monsanto ? which also controls a large percentage of the seed market -? have altered the DNA of foods like corn and soybeans to make them less vulnerable to pesticides. This means that they can be sprayed with more weedkiller and other chemicals. Unless you buy organic food, there is no way to avoid this problem.

On the surface, these genetically modified (GM) foods don?t sound so bad. What is wrong with using science to invent foods with more nutrients? And indeed, genetic engineering has led to some great nutritional advances. Golden rice, for instance, is a fortified variety of rice that provides people in developing nations with vitamins their diet may otherwise lack.

But other GM foods do not offer any inherent nutritional benefits. Rather, their chief advantage is resistance to pesticides, which allows farmers to spray crops without fear of destroying the plants. Last month, in a huge victory for Monsanto, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ruled that GM alfalfa could be cultivated without federal regulation. This meant that Monsanto could now distribute its GM alfalfa seeds ? resistant to the company?s weedkiller Roundup ? without having to give further evidence that the product was safe.

There is growing evidence that GM crops can harm consumers. Rats fed GM corn developed serious kidney and liver problems, according to a 2009 study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences. Although Monsanto claimed that it had tested the corn for safety, the 2009 study found significant flaws in the methods that the company used to analyze its data. Yet this corn remains approved for commercial use. In fact, you have probably eaten some today, and unless something changes, you will likely eat some tomorrow.

Moreover, the USDA doesn?t seem to have consumer interests at heart. The alfalfa decision represented the Obama administration?s latest initiative to ?repair relations? with industry. According to the Wall Street Journal, the administration is ?weeding out? proposals that are ?overly burdensome? to businesses. This begs the question: should the government be more concerned about the welfare of the American people or the welfare of its corporate relationships?

At the same time, Americans have given no sign that they care. Even though GM foods may present significant health risks, there is no consumer pressure to label genetically engineered foods in the way restaurants have to display nutrition facts. In contrast, European consumers have steadily demanded labeling of GM products.

The main problem is that we just don?t know about the problem. It?s not like corn has Twitter, or alfalfa posted a Facebook status: ?gonna be genetically modified :-( have fun eating me!? Even though major news outlets covered the USDA decision, the information is only as powerful as the number of people it reaches. And while the Internet can spread news within minutes, it presents so much information that users are forced to be selective. How many people are likely to read an article called ?USDA Won?t Impose Restrictions on Biotech Alfalfa Crop? rather than an article called ?Apple Develops Less Expensive iPhones??

There?s more than alfalfa at stake here. By failing to protest these decisions, we?re renouncing control over our food. As students at the only Ivy League university with an agricultural college, we should be at the forefront of a national conversation. But try to talk to someone about the dangers of GM foods, and you?ll see a pair of blank eyes staring back at you.

?Have you seen Food, Inc.?? I asked one junior.

?I remember the part about the chickens,? he said. ?That was the movie about the chickens, right??