In the middle of my anti-frankenfood week, I see this article from the NYTimes, titled “Why Aren’t GMO Foods Labeled?”
…and immediately, I think to myself… “…because the rush to approve and accept them came much faster than the rush to ensure that such unique technology was actually deemed safe, across the board, for human consumption.”
There’s also this:
The 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act imposed strict rules requiring that the word “imitation” appear on any food product that was, well, an imitation … [And] the food industry [argued over the word], strenuously for decades, and in 1973 it finally succeeded in getting the imitation rule tossed out, a little-notice but momentous step that helped speed America down the path of nutritionism.
… The American Heart Association, eager to get Americans off saturated fats and onto vegetable oils (including hydrogenated vegetable oils), was actively encouraging the food industry to “modify” various foods to get the saturated fats and cholesterol out of them, and in the early seventies the association urged that “any existing and regulatory barriers to the marketing of such foods be removed.”
And so they were when, in 1973, the FDA (not, note, the Congress that wrote the law) simply repealed the 1938 rule concerning imitation foods. … The revised imitation rule held that as long as an imitation product was not “nutritionally inferior” to the natural food it sought to impersonate—as long as it had the same quantities of recongized nutrients—the imitation could be marketed without using the dreaded “i” word. — In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
So… as long as the studies declare that the GMO products aren’t “nutritionally inferior,” we don’t really have to be told they’re fake food. How much do you want to bet it’ll be a long time before those studies are ever done?
The problem with genetically modified foods, really, is the uncertainty. And really, let’s be honest, here. In an industry where everyone is waiting for the next opportunity to turn a big profit, very little is left unchartered. Everything is studied to a fault because if there are benefits to tout for something, we’d be inundated with press releases, commercials and everything else. For any food – genetically modified or otherwise – to be covered in a cloud of uncertainty… tells me that that cloud is placed (and left) there intentionally. If you dug deeper than the cloud, you’d find all the reasons to not eat the stuff.
The article includes a lot of stuff that food nerds like me are interested in, but I’m going to parse it down to the stuff that I think should be noted and quoted here, at least:
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 the approval by the Food and Drug Administration of a 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 F.D.A.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.
Let’s not forget – Europe’s regulations? Far tougher than ours. And why?
Tom Vilsack, the pro-biotech former governor of Iowa, is now Secretary of the USDA.
Michael Taylor, former Monsanto Vice President, is now the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods.
Roger Beachy, former director of the Monsanto-funded Danforth Plant Science Center, is now the director of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Islam Siddiqui, Vice President of the Monsanto and Dupont-funded pesticide-promoting lobbying group, CropLife, is now the Agriculture Negotiator for the US Trade Representative.
Rajiv Shah former agricultural-development director for the pro-biotech Gates Foundation (a frequent Monsanto partner), served as Obama’s USDA Under-Secretary for Research Education and Economics and Chief Scientist and is now head of USAID.
Elena Kagan, who, as President Obama’s Solicitor General, took Monsanto’s side against organic farmers in the Roundup Ready alfalfa case, is now on the Supreme Court.
Ramona Romero, corporate counsel to DuPont, has been nominated by President Obama to serve as General Counsel for the USDA. [source]
…but back to the article.
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.
Understand what this means. It means that since the genetically modified animal isn’t actually being evaluated as an animal… or as, well, food. It’s being evaluated as a drug.
…but back to the article.
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.
The cross-breeding of alfalfa is a big deal because of the issue with the term “organic.” For instance, if you purchase organic cow’s milk, it means that your cow has eaten only organically grown food, as well. Since alfalfa makes up the hay fed to cows, its imperative that that alfalfa be organic, as well. If cross-breeding – in other words, when seeds of plants “blow over” to someone else’s land and grow there – happens that easily with alfalfa, then it alters the amount of organic alfalfa there is to feed organically raised cows… thus reducing the ability to organically raise cows… thus increasing the difficulty of raising cows organically as well as reducing the amount of organic milk… thus increasing the price of organic milk and cheeses.
That’s a big deal.
There’s a great clip – I’ll have to find it somewhere – of a court case where a food industry executive was asked why they didn’t want food labeled to reflect what it truly is, and the woman said “Oh, we don’t want to unnecessarily worry the public.”
That’s industry speak for – “We know they’ll pick up on something that’ll give them a reason to not give us their money.” Look at that number. 87%
Eighty-seven per cent of the public wants genetically modified foods labeled! Why can’t we get what we want? Because the industry doesn’t want to “unnecessarily worry” us. Oh, okay.
…but back to the last and, to me, most important part of the article:
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.
We are, essentially, being turned into test subjects – unwittingly, even – but there’s one way to avoid it. Start doing what you can to avoid genetically modified foods and the things that feed from them.