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CONSUMERS & REGULATION: Anti-GMO grass-roots effort gains ground in U.S.



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   ANTI-GMO GRASS-ROOTS EFFORT GAINS GROUND IN U.S.

SOURCE:  Discover Magazin, USA

AUTHOR:  Linda Marsa & Gillian Conahan

URL:     http://discovermagazine.com/2013/april/16a-anti-gmo-efforts-us#.UTi6Qxm6zXg

DATE:    06.03.2013

SUMMARY: "Anti-GMO food activists in the U.S. don?t stage late-night guerrilla raids, vandalizing farms swathed in hazmat gear. Instead, they?re more likely to patrol the corridors of power in sport jackets, lobbying lawmakers for oversight or suing biotechs in court. But even without these tactics, American activists, including a handful of scientists, have been raising skepticism about GMO foods. ?The science just hasn?t been done,? says Charles Benbrook, an agricultural policy expert at Washington State University and a leading voice of dissent. Today, about 90 percent of the corn, soy, and cotton grown in the U.S. are genetically modified to be either resistant to pests or tolerant of herbicides, including the popular weed killer Roundup, so that farmers can spray throughout the growing season without harming crops."

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ANTI-GMO GRASS-ROOTS EFFORT GAINS GROUND IN U.S.

Anti-GMO food activists in the U.S. don?t stage late-night guerrilla raids, vandalizing farms swathed in hazmat gear. Instead, they?re more likely to patrol the corridors of power in sport jackets, lobbying lawmakers for oversight or suing biotechs in court.

But even without these tactics, American activists, including a handful of scientists, have been raising skepticism about GMO foods. ?The science just hasn?t been done,? says Charles Benbrook, an agricultural policy expert at Washington State University and a leading voice of dissent.

Today, about 90 percent of the corn, soy, and cotton grown in the U.S. are genetically modified to be either resistant to pests or tolerant of herbicides, including the popular weed killer Roundup, so that farmers can spray throughout the growing season without harming crops.

While the harvest from most of these crops is used to feed cows, pigs, and chickens, some genetically engineered corn and soybeans have made their way into the human food chain and are used to make tortillas, corn syrup, and corn oil for cooking.

Today, about 75 percent of processed foods contain genetically engineered ingredients, a sea change that Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the activist coalition Just Label It, calls ?an unprecedented agricultural experiment being conducted at America?s dinner tables.?

As a result, thousands of products containing foreign or altered genes have been eaten by millions of people. But since these products aren?t labeled or tested by impartial scientists, there is no way to trace back potentially adverse health consequences, activists say. A handful of scientists even speculate that genetically modified crops and the pesticides used to cultivate them may be partly responsible for the increased incidence of ills such as asthma, allergies, ADHD, and gastrointestinal disorders.

A few animal studies have raised red flags, including some showing intestinal damage; structural changes in the kidneys, pancreas, and spleen; infertility; low birth weights in mice litters; and cancerous tumors in rats. But proving a causal connection, especially in humans, is tricky. ?These studies raise questions that demand answers, but the government has chosen thus far not to do that,? Benbrook says.

In fact, the FDA has ruled that because DNA is in every living organism, crops engineered with added genes are ?substantially the same? as other foods and are no different from crops genetically modified through conventional breeding techniques. But that point of view rings hollow to scientist-activists.

?There is no credible evidence that GMO foods are safe to eat and no significant safety testing is required by FDA,? counters biologist David Schubert of the Salk Institute of Biological Studies in La Jolla, California.

Yet a litmus test of sorts may be here soon. Later this year, sweet corn, which is fortified with natural insecticides built into its DNA, will debut on supermarket shelves in the U.S. ?The corn is the first GMO food crop made for human consumption that people will consume in large quantities, so we?ll see what effect they have,? Benbrook says.

What we do know is that constantly spraying genetically modified crops with Roundup has increased our dependence on this toxic weed killer and spawned a new generation of herbicide-resistant superweeds, Benbrook points out. These renegade weeds are increasingly plaguing farmers and have driven a

7 percent increase in herbicide use since 1996.

The nascent anti-GMO movement is pushing back. In September 2011, Just Label It petitioned the FDA to mandate the labeling of genetically modified foods. Since then, 600 environmental and consumer groups have joined the campaign, and more than 1.2 million people have endorsed the proposal.

California?s Proposition 37, a ballot measure for labeling genetically modified foods, lost at the polls in November after supporters were outspent by a factor of five. Chemical giants like Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow helped raise $45 million to defeat the initiative. ?But it?s already been a win. Our campaign gained new supporters and stimulated public discussion,? Hirshberg says.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   GMO POLL FINDS HUGE MAJORITY SAY FOODS SHOULD BE LABELED

SOURCE:  Huffington Post, USA

AUTHOR:  

URL:     http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/04/gmo-poll_n_2807595.html

DATE:    04.03.2013

SUMMARY: "Americans are largely uncertain over whether genetically modified foods are safe for the environment or safe to eat, but the vast majority say that foods containing genetically modified ingredients should be labeled, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. According to the new survey, 82 percent of Americans think GMO foods should be labeled, while only 9 percent say they should not be labeled. The vast majority of respondents across demographic groups favored labeling, with little division either by political party or by how much respondents had heard about the development of genetically modified crops."

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GMO POLL FINDS HUGE MAJORITY SAY FOODS SHOULD BE LABELED

Americans are largely uncertain over whether genetically modified foods are safe for the environment or safe to eat, but the vast majority say that foods containing genetically modified ingredients should be labeled, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll.

According to the new survey, 82 percent of Americans think GMO foods should be labeled, while only 9 percent say they should not be labeled. The vast majority of respondents across demographic groups favored labeling, with little division either by political party or by how much respondents had heard about the development of genetically modified crops.

Although respondents were near unanimous in saying genetically modified foods should be labeled, many expressed uncertainty about the environmental or health consequences of growing and consuming them.

Twenty-one percent of respondents said they think GMO foods are safe to eat, while 35 percent said they?re dangerous to eat. But another 44 percent said they?re not sure. Likewise, 39 percent of respondents said they?re unsure of what impact growing GMO crops might have on the environment, although those who did have an opinion were more like to say such crops are bad for the environment. Overall, 35 percent said growing GMO crops is bad for the environment, 8 percent said it?s good for the environment, and 18 percent said it would have no impact.

The view that foods with genetically modified ingredients are safe to eat was more common among respondents with at least a college education, but the respondents? level of education had little relationship to views on the environmental impact of growing GMO crops.

Survey respondents were divided over whether companies should be allowed to patent the crops they develop. Twenty-eight percent said companies should be able to patent their crops and 33 percent said they should not, while 39 percent said they were not sure.

Patent rights for companies that develop genetically modified crops have not been directly disputed, but a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court is challenging those companies? control over second-generation seeds produced by genetically modified crops. Currently, farmers can be prevented from purchasing GMO seeds under patent from sources other than the companies that developed them. They can also be barred from saving and using second-generation seeds produced by those crops.

The results of the new poll show that few Americans are paying close attention to news about GMO crops. Only 22 percent of respondents said they?d heard a lot about companies developing genetically modified crops, 48 percent said they had heard a little, and 25 percent said they?d heard nothing at all.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Feb. 28-Mar. 1 among 1,000 U.S. adults. The poll used a sample selected from YouGov?s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov?s nationally representative opinion polling.



                                  PART 3

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TITLE:   GMO LABELLING IN AMERICA

SOURCE:  Sustainable Food Trust, USA

AUTHOR:  Julianne Mesaric

URL:     http://www.sustainablefoodtrust.org/2013/03/gmo-labelling-in-america/

DATE:    01.03.2013

SUMMARY: "Politicians and activist groups in over 20 U.S. states are working to pass ballot initiatives that would legally require the labelling of all foods containing genetically modified organisms. A successful state initiative could potentially spur action on a federal level to create a national GMO labelling program. ?The only way to get the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to act is to have something passed on a state level,? says Andrew Kimbrell, a public interest attorney and Executive Director of Center for Food Safety in Washington D.C. ?Once one state labels, or there is another close election, the FDA will feel the pressure.?"

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GMO LABELLING IN AMERICA

Politicians and activist groups in over 20 U.S. states are working to pass ballot initiatives that would legally require the labelling of all foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMO). A successful state initiative could potentially spur action on a federal level to create a national GMO labelling program.

?The only way to get the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to act is to have something passed on a state level,? says Andrew Kimbrell, a public interest attorney and Executive Director of Center for Food Safety in Washington D.C. ?Once one state labels, or there is another close election, the FDA will feel the pressure.?

California almost passed a law to require labelling of GMO foods this past November; the bill was defeated by a narrow public vote of 53.1 to 46.9 percent. The defeat of Proposition 37 garnered a collective sigh from both sides ? of disappointment from supporters and of relief from opponents, but before anyone could catch another breath, GMO labeling bills had gained momentum in states across the country: Washington, Vermont, Connecticut, Colorado? An estimated 37 states are engaged in grassroots efforts. Twenty of those have written bills. California proved to be the first domino in a long line of states to take legislative action on GMO labelling.

?Without a doubt, Prop 37 elevated the issue and inspired other efforts, as well as new receptivity on the part of some companies,? says Michael Pollan, American author and food activist.

Each state?s bill differs slightly in origins and terms. All states face tight legislative deadlines as well as lobbyists who want to slow down or kill the bill. A House vote must take place before the legislative term ends (April, May or June, depending on the state), or the bill dies until sessions resume in January 2014. A bill can be proposed more than once, which is good news for its sponsors since several bills have already been rejected on the House floor.

Some State Representatives, like those who voted against a labelling bill in Colorado last week, feel that farmers and consumers would end up paying more for their food if a state GMO labelling law was passed.

Others politicians, like in Vermont, cited fears that their state would be sued by biotechnology companies if a labelling bill was enacted. Kimbrell counters that as long as the proposed state law addresses a matter of public interest and concern ? such as protecting organic farmers? crops from being contaminated by drift from GMO crop fields ? there is no question that any state or local law would be susceptible to a successful legal challenge like the one feared. Almost eight years ago, Alaska enacted legislation that requires the labelling of all products containing GMO fish and shell fish, the first labelling legislation in the U.S., and has received no legal challenges.

Many State Representatives feel that Congress should ultimately be responsible for setting a national standard for GMO labelling ? a point of consonance.

?State by state labelling only make sense in the short term,? says Pollan.

?The FDA has dropped the ball on this,? says Dave Rogers, Policy Adviser for Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) of Vermont, whose state?s GMO labelling bill is currently undergoing hearings in the Vermont House to a reported one-third of its members? support. ?States are acting as the laboratories of democracy.?

The FDA has not reviewed its 1992 policy that deems GMO crops to be ?substantially equivalent? to non-GMO crops, and thus needing no label or safety tests, since it was written. The policy was spearheaded by Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto lawyer, when he was in the role of deputy commissioner of policy. In 2010, Taylor was named deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA.

?There has been a direct hit on our freedom of choice and the very principles this country was founded on,? says Tara Cook-Littman, a former New York prosecutor and leader of GMO Free CT. ?Eventually our voices will be so loud that our government will not be able to ignore us any longer.?

Indeed, it seems that efforts from organizations like the one Cook-Littman leads are having an impact at the federal level. In mid-January, it was reported that representatives from major food companies and retailers, as well as GMO labeling activists, met with the FDA to discuss lobbying for a national labelling program.

?My sense is that food makers are having second thoughts about fighting labels,? says Pollan, referring to their contribution to the $46 million invested in a campaign to defeat Prop 37. Continuing to sell GMO foods without labels would ?put them at odds with their consumers, which is never a good place to be. Why should they carry Monsanto?s water??

Negotiations on a federal level are not without its risks to state and grassroots movements. GMO labelling supporters fear that further talks will be behind closed doors and negotiated by the biotechnology industry.

If and when a Federal GMO labelling law is enacted, ?there are deep concerns that it would simply be a compromise that the industry could live with, but that would not give consumers the rights and protections we are looking for,? says Cook-Littman. ?Passing a law with no teeth on the federal level would then preempt states from passing laws with stronger language that would give consumers the transparency that the citizens of 62 countries already enjoy.?

Cook-Littman says that she believes state-mandated GMO labelling laws is one solution to avoid a weak federal law. She adds that grassroots leaders from 37 states are currently working together to introduce unified language in GMO labelling bills throughout the country.

Another solution would be ? against all odds ? a compromise between the biotechnology industry, food companies, farmers and other stakeholders the state bills propose to protect.

During his campaign in 2007, President Barack Obama said he would strive to ?let folks know when their food is genetically modified, because Americans have a right to know what they?re buying.?

Seventy percent of processed foods in America contain GMOs.

According to a survey conducted by Just Label It, 90 percent of Americans support GMO labelling. Over a year ago, the group, along with The Center for Food Safety, filed a legal petition containing over 1.2 million signatures from consumers, farm groups and food companies to the FDA; there has been no response from the federal administration.

With continued state-wide political and grassroots efforts, GMO labelling programs ? at state or national levels ? are inevitable.

Kimbrell says: ?It?s just a matter of time, but everyone would save a lot of effort if we all came to the table now.?