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Genetic engineering needs full disclosure and in-depth study

Genetic engineering needs full disclosure and in-depth study

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● 64 countries have laws requiring labels for foods containing GE ingredients

● 19 of 28 European Union members have banned cultivation of GE crops

● The rest of the world has the right to know what they are eating; why don’t you?

We have to ask, if genetically engineered foods are so good for us, why do we not have the choice whether to eat them or not? Several national polls repeatedly report that about 9 of 10 Americans support mandatory GE labeling. The Mellman Group’s 2015 poll records that preference among large majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Why does the industry spend millions trying to suppress labeling?

Their excuse is that labeling will raise the cost of food for poor people. The fast food industry made that same argument for decades to fight the legal requirement to reveal the “nutrition” content of their foods. Americans won that one, with fast foods remaining relatively cheap. You can walk into any fast food place and ask for their nutrition chart; they must have it ready to give to you.

The FDA decides food labeling based on any “material” changes, already requiring labels for about 3,000 ingredients or processes in food production. Big food chains change their labels all the time.

Exciting for the American consumer is that the USDA has announced its plans to write totally new guidelines for GE oversight. Long overdue, it is the reason why industry spokespersons are flooding the media with their stories.

GE foods flood our supermarkets, without the right for the consumer to know. Estimates calculate that 75 percent of frozen and processed foods have GE ingredients. Over 90 percent of our corn, soya, canola, cotton seed are GE. Wheat is not yet commercially GE because farmers across the Midwest rose up and made Monsanto put that seed back on the shelf; farmers did not want to pay high prices for the seed, while not being able to sell GE wheat around the world.

The science is still out on the safety of GE foods for humans, mainly because the industry keeps their research private. Editors of Scientific American concluded, “Unfortunately, it is impossible to verify that genetically modified crops perform as advertised. That is because agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers."

Human health effects of GE food can include higher risks of toxicity, allergic reactions, antibiotic resistance, and immune-suppression. Those countries that ban GE are enforcing the international law (Cartagena Protocol) of the "precautionary principle," allowing governments to act because of potential negative effects on humans and the environment. Irreversible harm may already have been done before science conclusively rules about hazards.

In contrast, the science is very clear about the effects of herbicides and pesticides sprayed on our food crops, genetically engineered to withstand the poisons. Although causality is often difficult to demonstrate, Monsanto has agreed (see their website) that its glyphosate (Round-up Ready) herbicide, killing milkweed, is a major cause for the 81 percent decline of monarch butterflies. Although the monarch is a major pollinator for American farmers, Monsanto has offered only $4 million to mitigate the disaster.

Senior scientist at the National Resource Defense Council, Sylvia Fallon, is clear: “Glyphosate has wiped out the milkweed they [monarchs] need to survive....EPA completely ignored the impact on monarchs…and seriously underestimated the toxicity for people.” The World Heath Organization now classifies glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen” and thanks to decades of spraying, the chemical is now abundant in air and waters in U.S. rural communities.

GE crops also threaten your choice for organic foods. A recent USDA study (“Transgenic Feral Alfalfa…” 12/23/15) documents a 27 percent contamination rate of areas beyond GE fields. Already in 2014, China rejected GE contaminated corn shipments, costing U.S. agriculture almost $3 billion. Contamination of organic or hybrid crops can come from cross-pollination, mixing during storage or of the seeds before planting.

As the Center for Food Safety concludes, we now have “the absurd spectacle of the U.S. (the world’s leading corn and soybean producer) importing organic corn and soy from countries like Romania and India. Fear of transgenic contamination is one factor deterring more U.S. farmers from meeting America’s growing demand for organic foods.”

To exercise our freedom of choice, we must demand that formulation of new USDA guidelines for GE crops consider the following: -- health consequences for all species, not only of the transferred gene but of massive chemical spraying on food crops;

-- rapid evolution of herbicide-resistant weeds and pesticide-resistant insects;

--contamination of water/air;

--and transgenic contamination of traditional or organic crops. You have the right to know.

Carol B. Thompson of Flagstaff, Ph.D. Political Economy, has worked over a period of 25 years with smallholder farmers in Southern Africa. Their governments (except South Africa) exercise the precautionary principle, refusing commercial cultivation of GE food crops. A founding member of the Flagstaff CSA and a volunteer in community gardens, she has written numerous books and articles on the politics of international food policies.


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