Tag Archive | "GM foods"

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CA Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act

Posted on 28 March 2012 by Jerry

Since the July 5, 2011 reversal of the U.S. position opposing labeling of genetically modified foods internationally (see August 5, 2011 post “Speed/Slow/Stop…or LABEL Genetically Modified Foods”), pressure for mandatory labeling of GM foods in the U.S. has been building.  While there are efforts nationally to produce petitions (see www.justlabelit.org ) and to pass laws to require mandatory labeling, many are not optimistic these efforts will be successful in the near term.  The situation in the State of California may be dramatically different however (see www.carighttoknow.org )

As you probably know California has a history of leading and pioneering in forward looking health and safety issues.  California also has a well developed voter initiative process in which citizens groups can qualify proposed laws for inclusion on the state election ballot once a specific number of voter signatures have been secured.  In the November elections of 2012 California voters will have a unique opportunity to pass ground breaking legislation that requires mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods offered for sale in California.

Called the “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act” the proposed legislation requires mandatory labeling when a food is:

  • “any genetically engineered raw agricultural commodity”
  • a “processed food that is made with or derived from any genetically engineered ingredient” or
  • any “processed food that is made with or is derived from any ingredient that may be genetically engineered” shall include a conspicuous statement which says “MAY CONTAIN GENETICALLY ENGINEERED INGREDIENT(S)”

While this legislation has elements which do not go far enough, it does represent a landmark step.  An example of an area that could be strengthened is its failure to call for labeling of food from any animal that has not itself been genetically engineered but has been fed or injected with genetically engineered food or any drug that has been produced though means of genetic engineering.  The proposed law also excludes labeling of food solely because it includes one or more genetically engineered processing aids or enzymes.

In any case, this is a ballot initiative you should support with your contributions and votes. Quoting Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, “Successful activists take the progress that is offered and demand more.”  Let us pass this law as written as a beachhead for the rest of the nation.  For voters from other states use this as a template for your own local initiatives. 

Remember, this legislation does not change the food choices you are given in your local store.  It also does not limit the genetic engineering the industy performs.  It merely gives you more information about what you may consume yourself or serve to your family.  It only equips you to make a more informed choice.

 Use the following links to review the actual wording of the voter initiative and visit the websites of organizations driving this issue:

To read the initiative after accessing carighttoknow.org, select “About”, then select “The Initiative”:

http://carighttoknow.com 

www.labelgmos.org

http://justlabelit.org

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Genetically Modified Crops Score: EU 1, US 0

Posted on 28 January 2012 by Jerry

The worldwide war between chemical companies and environmentalists continues.  There was a victory of sorts this month when BASF, the world’s largest chemical company headquartered in Germany, announced it was no longer developing genetically modified plants solely for cultivation in Europe and was moving its plant-science headquarters from Germany to Raleigh, North Carolina.  When questioned, Stefan Marcinowski, a member of the BASF board of executive directors, cited “a lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe – from the majority of consumers, farmers and politicians.”  The company indicated it would increase its focus on selling these products in the Americas and Asia.

The back story of this announcement is that BASF is admitting defeat in its efforts to gain acceptance for its genetically modified crops in Europe.  After many years of lobbying and public debate of the merits of these crops, it has thrown in the towel.  As one would expect in a political process, chemical companies would secure regulatory approval from the European Commission (a political agency) only to encounter widespread and vocal opposition in the market.  This is one of those cases where corporate money and political influence was not enough to roll over market forces and consumer sentiment in individual countries.   BASF follows Monsanto who made a similar decision to not develop crops for the EU market some time ago.

This battle in Europe mirrors the struggle that is taking place worldwide where chemical companies are using money, political influence, and detractors charge, false claims to take genetic control of crops that feed the majority of the world’s population. It is not surprising that the two most technically developed regions in the world are at odds over genetic crop utilization. The United States pioneered genetic crop engineering following the lead of Monsanto, headquartered in Missouri, with its “Round-Up-Ready” crops, while the EU looked at the technology with far less enthusiasm and much greater consideration of the potential negative impacts.  Unfortunately, the chemical companies are making inroads in less developed and less sophisticated counties around the world having gained approvals in Africa, South America and smaller countries in Asia.

Use the following links for more information on genetically engineered crops around the world:

BASF relocation:

http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/01/basf-abandons-gm-crop-market-in-europe.html

GM Crops in Europe:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/12/09/us-eu-gmo-petition-idUSTRE6B82JO20101209

GM Crops in Asia:

http://atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LB04Df03.html

GM Crops in Africa:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=kenya-to-green-light-genetically-modified-crops

GM Crops in South America:

http://healthfreedoms.org/2011/06/09/peru-approves-10-year-ban-on-gm-crops-brazil-speeds-up-approvals/

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Speed/Slow/Stop…or LABEL Genetically Modified Foods

Posted on 05 August 2011 by Jerry

genetically modified foods

In the early 1990’s advances in genetic engineering changed the nature of the chemical business at firms such as Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical, and Bayer.  They went from manufacturing chemical substances such as herbicides like Roundup, to patenting genetically modified seeds for crops such as corn, rice, soybeans and wheat.  These seeds were genetically engineered to have many different characteristics.  In some cases they added genes to crops that made them impervious to herbicides such as Roundup.  These crops were branded as “Roundup Ready” in that a farmer could use Roundup in his fields to kill weeds with no fear the herbicide would damage their crop.  In other cases they added genes that were from other species of plants that produced natural pesticides. These made the resulting crops impervious to various insect pests.  With active support from the United States government and the deep pockets of these multinational chemical companies, there was a concerted push to have these seeds approved for use and planted throughout the world.

The chemical companies insisted there was little environmental or heath risk from these genetically modified crops.  They said that human or animal consumption involved taking these crops into the digestive tract and that any potentially harmful toxins or chemicals were destroyed in the digestive process.  Opponents claimed there was insufficient research to determine possible effects.  Since these seeds were patented products of their respective companies, information about them was withheld as proprietary and access to them for research was not granted.  Recent research indicates their toxins are not destroyed in the digestive process but instead can be found in the human blood stream, see the related story “Where there’s toxins, there’s….what?” June 1, 2011.

Some governments reacted aggressively, e.g. the United States, while others reacted cautiously, e.g. the European Union.  Different groups of farmers accepted the crops, others rejected them citing consumer concerns about genetically modified foods.  With little regulation and much governmental support, the industry has been very successful in the United States at replacing natural crops with genetically modified crops.  The following chart was published by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in 2011.  It shows various modified crops achieving between 65% – 94% of planted acreage in the United States.  This leads to very high reliance on genetically modified ingredients in the American food supply.  A recent estimate is that 80% of the products purchased at an average grocery store in the US contain some ingredient that is from a genetically modified source.

Designations before the crop type refer to the type of genetic modification that has been made:
HT = herbicide-tolerant varieties   Bt = insect resistant varieties

The chemical industry, assisted by the U. S. Government, has actively fought labeling of genetically modified food with every tactic at their disposal.  This has included using provisions in the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) to block any country from requiring mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods.  They have asserted the labeling would amount to adoption of “technical regulations” that erect “unnecessary obstacles to trade” or are more “trade restrictive than necessary” under the Technical Barriers Trade (TBT) Agreement or the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement of the GATT.   On this basis they have blocked labeling of genetically modified foods as violations of the GATT and threatened legal challenges through the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In addition, they have derailed progress by the Codex Alimentarious Commission in Geneva which was established jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).  As a part of its mission to establish internationally recognized standards for food safety, the Codex has sought an agreement to allow countries to have a valid argument for requiring genetically modified labeling domestically under Article XX of the GATT.

In a surprise move at the July 5, 2011 Codex meeting, the United States, the lone holdout to an agreement on genetically modified food labeling, abruptly reversed its two decades old position and endorsed a labeling guidance document.  While the Codex cannot order labeling, its guidance document gives countries the international permission to require genetically modified labeling of food consumed in their country. Over a hundred countries signed the guidance document and a substantial number will now begin their process to initiate mandatory labeling.

There is little agreement however, on what labeling standards should be followed.  Two major camps have emerged over the years with some arguing for “product” labeling with others endorsing a “process” labeling.  Under the product option, which is the minimalist approach, genetically modified foods would require labeling only when the products are not substantially equivalent to their unmodified cousins in composition, nutritional value or intended use. In addition, labels would be required if the modified food contained allergens or ingredients from certain fats not found in their natural counterparts.  The process option would call for labeling of all genetically modified foods and food ingredients regardless of whether they were substantially equivalent to their natural counterparts or not.  This process option has been adopted and implemented by the European Union (EU), Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and to some extent China.

It is very doubtful that the chemical industry or the U.S. government will change their long held position against labeling of genetically modified foods.  They adhere to the argument there is no substantial difference between genetically modified foods and their natural counterparts.  This acceleration of labeling internationally can serve as the opportunity for American citizens who favor mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods to renew and redouble their lobbying efforts to secure labeling at home.  In addition, we must encourage organizations which will push for labeling nationally to embrace this as a priority effort.  This is the opportunity to reverse the tide and make progress in this area.

Organizations who are leaders on this issue and who could use support and further encouragement are as follows:

Greenpeace International: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/agriculture/problem/

Organic Seed Alliance:

http://www.seedalliance.org/ten-ways-to-respond-to-usda-s-ge-alfalfa-and-sugar-beets-decision/

The Center for Food Safety

http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/

Letters to elected officials are also a required part of lobbying for labeling.  The following link provides access to a data base with which to indentify your elected representative and their address.  You are encouraged to take a stand and demand full “process” labeling of genetically modified foods in the United States.

Congressional Representatives: http://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

Background:  In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, in Chapter 13: Protect Life Imperative – Synthetic Biology, there is a description of the history of genetic engineering and synthetic biology and the risks associated with both.  The book calls for “mandatory and detailed” labeling of all genetically or synthetically engineered plant or animal food.  It takes the position “Only an informed citizenry should decide to consume genetically engineered food.”

 

Use the following links for more information:

 

GM Foods in the Supermarket:  http://www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/opinion/comments/supermarket_foods_0520111206.html

Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S.:  http://www.ers.usda.gov/data/biotechcrops/

 

Country Adoption of GM Crops – a recent sampling:

South Africa: http://allafrica.com/stories/printable/201106081109.html  and  http://allafrica.com/stories/printable/201107060142.html

Peru: http://www.farming.co.uk/articles/view/4140 Peru’s Congress bans GM crops

Ireland: http://canadianawareness.org/2011/04/ireland-says-not-in-this-country-bans-genetically-modified-crops/

Canada: http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=5790

European Union: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14045365

Approval of GM Food Labeling: http://www.consumersunion.org/pub/core_food_safety/017860.html

http://www.codexalimentarious.net/web/archives.jsp?lang=en  See session 39 Codex Committee on Food Labeling, click English pdf, scroll to REP 11/FL Appendix III.

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An Australian Mom’s Intervention to Stop GM Wheat

Posted on 12 July 2011 by Jerry

July 21, 2011, San Francisco

A Greenpeace activist and mother, Heather McCabe, and her colleague took direct action to end an Australian government sponsored field trial of genetically modified wheat.  The two entered an experimental farm run by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and used brush cutters to destroy a crop of the experimental wheat.  “This GM wheat should never have left the lab,” said McCabe.  “I am sick of being treated like a dumb Mum who doesn’t understand the science.  As far as I am concerned, my family’s health is just too important.  GM wheat is not safe, and if the government can’t protect the safety of my family, then I will.”  This direct action by members of Greenpeace is the culmination of charges the government has quietly approved the first test of this genetically modified wheat fed to humans.

This follows an open letter to the Australian government challenging the safety of the proposed human trials of genetically modified wheat.  Signed by eight scientists and doctors from around the world, the letter challenges the experiment and cites research showing inadvertent and unpredictable health damaging effects which can result when these GM products are fed to animals and could be predicted when fed to humans.

It also follows the release of a Greenpeace report entitled Australia’s Wheat Scandal: The Biotech Takeover of Our Daily Bread.  The report shows that none of the other top five wheat producing countries in the world has approved testing of this GM wheat.  It details 29 specific instances of GM contamination in Australia and documents 169 breaches of security licenses issued by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.  The report also identifies conflicts of interest where two directors of Nufarm (Monsanto’s exclusive distributor of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready products in Australia) also served on the board of the CSIRO (governmental agency), during the period when field trials were approved for the GM wheat.

This report also cites articles in 2009 issues of Scientific American and Nature Biotechnology that discuss GM seed company contracts which prohibit independent researchers from access to the seed needed to conduct environmental and health research on these products.  Further the history of research in this area consistently shows conflicting results between research conducted by the biotechnology companies and those of independent researchers.

 

Background: In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, Chapter 13, Protect Life Imperative – Synthetic Biology describes the science of genetic engineering and the rapid adoption of its technology in the U.S., its country of origin.  Further it describes the “genetic land rush” underway as companies stake their claims to own the genetics of life.

Use the following links for more information:

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