Full list: GMO News

Portland Press Herald: GMO crop mapping plan hard to swallow

Farmers worry that it could lead to crop sabotage, while others say it’s needed for purity.
By GOSIA WOZNIACKA
6/15/14
Full Article

PORTLAND, Ore. — Before residents in southern Oregon overwhelmingly voted to ban genetically modified crops last month, farmers negotiated for months with a biotech company that grows engineered sugar beets near their fields.

Their goal was to set up a system to peacefully coexist, an online mapping database of fields to help growers minimize cross-pollination between engineered and non-engineered crops.

But the effort between farmers and Swiss company Syngenta failed, leading to the ban.

Last October, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber directed the state’s Department of Agriculture to undertake something far more ambitious than that failed mapping effort – map GMO field locations across the entire state and establish buffer zones and exclusion areas for GE crops.

The move was spurred by several instances of genetic contamination in the region that rendered non-engineered crops unsellable on the export market.

If the mapping goes ahead, Oregon would be the first state to map fields and mandate preventive measures for modified crops. Advocates say Oregon could become a model for the rest of the nation.

The failed mapping effort in southern Oregon illustrates the challenges in reaching a consensus on GMO mapping amid mutual mistrust, a dearth of regulations and intense consumer attention.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture committee has recommended informal neighbor farmer agreements and an insurance system to pay for damages resulting from GMO contamination. But organic farmers are pushing for more disclosure, formal prevention measures and a system to hold GE growers liable for cross-pollination.

Cross-pollination can occur when two crops within the same species flower simultaneously in nearby fields and pollen is carried from one to another via wind, insects, machines or human activity. Genetic engineering is prohibited in U.S. organic crops and many countries restrict imports of engineered products.

“There’s this need, a perceived need and real need in some markets, that they need zero contamination. And that is very difficult to achieve,” said Carol Mallory-Smith, professor of weed science at Oregon State University.

Already, dozens of seed associations across the nation – organizations for farmers who grow crops for seed – do mapping, also called pinning, and set isolation distances among crops to limit cross-pollination.

Some biotech companies participate in such mapping. But the efforts are voluntary and spotty, with locations and dates of planting available only to fellow growers, not officials or the general public.

Monsanto and other biotech outfits that hold patents to GE seeds resist publicly disclosing GMO field locations for competitive reasons. They claim farmers already coexist throughout the U.S. and more monitoring isn’t needed.

They are backed by farmers who plant GMO crops and worry that mapping could lead to crop sabotage and an outright ban on all GMO cultivation, regardless of the likelihood of contamination.

“More mapping would be redundant; we’re already doing it internally, we all work together with other farmers,” said Robert Purdy, who grows GE sugar beets for seed in the Willamette Valley. “If mapping were made public, nothing could stop people from pulling out those sugar beet plants.”

The company that contracts with Purdy for the seeds is a member of the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association, which maps more than 1,200 fields as part of a pinning system in northwestern Oregon – meaning Purdy can coordinate what to grow and where with his neighbors.

But organic farmers and other advocates say a mandatory mapping and monitoring system that covers all regions of the state and the nation is badly needed to retain crop and seed purity.


Burlington Free Press: Shumlin, Ben & Jerry’s team up in GMO fight

Terri Hallenbeck
June 16, 2014
Full Article

James Posig of Burlington was walking his dog down Church Street in Burlington on Monday afternoon when he stopped to watch a rally in front of the Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop.

Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield and Gov. Peter Shumlin were rallying interest in the state’s Food Fight Fund in defense of its new law requiring labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms. Food manufacturers filed a lawsuit last week challenging the law, which is slated to go into effect in July 2016.

“We now need your help to beat the food manufacturers,” Shumlin said. He later said he planned to contribute to the fund but declined to say how much.

Ben & Jerry’s, which is in the process of transforming all its flavors to non-genetically modified ingredients, renamed its fudge brownie ice cream Food Fight! Fudge Brownie for the month of July. The South Burlington-based ice-cream maker will contribute $1 from each purchase at the Burlington and Waterbury scoop shops to the state’s Food Fight Fund, Greenfield announced.

Scoop shop crews then came out of the shop with trays of Food Fight! Fudge Brownie samples.

Greenfield, who sold the company to Unilever in 2000, said he had no say in the company’s decision to go non-GMO, but “I was thrilled.”

He noted that two years ago he testified on his own behalf before the Legislature in favor of GMO labeling when the company had yet to take a stand on the issue. “Now it’s all in,” he said. “I feel much happier about it.”

A few feet away on Church Street, Posig was enjoying a sample of Food Fight! Fudge Brownie.

“I support it,” he said of the labeling law. “Everything should be disclosed.”

The fund, which was unveiled at the May 8 bill signing, had raised about $18,000 by the end of last week. Attorney General Bill Sorrell has estimated a lawsuit could cost up to $8 million.

“We want to raise as much as we can,” Shumlin said of the fund. “The rest we’ll do the old-fashioned way. We don’t expect to raise the whole amount.”


Vermont Attorney General’s GE Food Labeling Rule Questionnaire

The Attorney General has begun the process of drafting rules that will facilitate implementation of the newly signed VT GMO labeling law. Until the end of June, the Attorney General will begin soliciting input from the public and those who will be affected by the rules, including food processors, grocers and other retailers, the agricultural community, and consumers.

For more information, and to submit your input, visit this page.


Burlington Free Press: Trade groups sue VT over GMO labeling law

NANCY REMSEN
June 13, 2014
Full Article

Four national organizations whose members would be affected by Vermont’s new labeling law for genetically engineered foods filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court challenging the measure’s constitutionality.

“Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law — Act 120 — is a costly and misguided measure that will set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that do nothing to advance the health and safety of consumers,” the Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement about the lawsuit.

“Act 120 exceeds the state’s authority under the United States Constitution and in light of this GMA has filed a complaint in federal district court in Vermont seeking to enjoin this senseless mandate.”

The Legislature passed the labeling law in April, and Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the bill in May. The labeling requirements would take effect in two years: July 1, 2016.

Lawmakers, the governor and the attorney general expected the law to be challenged in court. Trade groups had promised to fight the law in court.

READ THE LAWSUIT: PDF: Lawsuit vs. Vermont GMO law

Attorney General William Sorrell noted Thursday he had advised lawmakers as they deliberated that the law would invite a lawsuit from those affected “and it would be a heck of a fight, but we would zealously defend the law.”

“We have been gearing up,” Sorrell said when reached Thursday afternoon in New York City. His office had yet to be served with the complaint.

The statement from the Grocery Manufacturers Association summarizes the grievances of the four plaintiff organizations: GMA, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Real progress, big questions after GMO law

“Act 120 imposes burdensome new speech requirements — and restrictions — that will affect, by Vermont’s count, eight out of every ten foods at the grocery store,” the GMA said. “Yet Vermont has effectively conceded this law has no basis in health, safety, or science. That is why a number of product categories, including milk, meat, restaurant items and alcohol, are exempt from the law. This means that many foods containing GMO ingredients will not actually disclose that fact.

“The First Amendment dictates that when speech is involved, Vermont policymakers cannot merely act as a pass-through for the fads and controversies of the day,” the association continued. “It must point to a truly ‘governmental’ interest, not just a political one.”

The groups added that the federal government has the sole authority over regulating nationwide distribution and labeling practices that facilitate interstate commerce, and the U.S. Constitution prohibits Vermont from doing so.

“The U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have both the mandate and expertise to incorporate the views of all the stakeholders at each link in the chain from farm to fork,” the association said.

The Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition, which lobbied for the law, argued that labeling would bring transparency to the information consumers would have about their food.

“The people of Vermont have said loud and clear they have a right to know what is in their food,” said Falko Schilling, consumer protection advocate with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

Schilling said lawmakers determined there was a lack of consensus about the safety of genetically engineered foods “so putting labels on is a reasonable and prudent thing so people can decide for themselves.”

The lawsuit, filed at U.S. District Court in Burlington, contends the Food and Drug Administration has “confirmed the safety of more than 100 genetically engineered crops for human consumption” since 1994.

The court complaint suggests the motivation for the new mandate is to respond to public-opinion polling “showing a consumer desire for labeling,” but notes the law exempts dairy and restaurants, creating big gaps on the information consumers will have if they are concerned about genetically modified foods.

The lawsuit argues the state needs a compelling interest to restrict information that food manufacturers provide about their products. But at the same time, the complaint states that the law indicates private dollars should be tapped first for any legal battles. The measure caps state funding at $1.5 million.

The lawsuit has drawn attention from national organization on the other side of the issue from the four plaintiffs.

Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, defended the Vermont law, saying 60 other countries either have banned GMOs or require mandatory labeling of foods that contain them.

Cummins added, “Every U.S. citizen should be concerned when a multi-billion dollar corporate lobbying group sues in federal court to overturn a state’s right to govern for the health and safety of its citizens.” He called the lawsuit was a way to intimidate other states considering labeling laws.


Grist: Oregon county bans GMO crops

By Nathanael Johnson
May 21, 2014
Full Article

Voters in Jackson County, Oregon, passed a measure Tuesday prohibiting farmers from growing genetically engineered plants. Farmers had spearheaded the initiative, according to the Associated Press:

The effort to ban GMOs in Jackson County started two years ago when organic farmers learned the Swiss company Syngenta was growing sugar beet seed in local fields that was genetically altered to resist the popular weed killer Roundup. They wanted to protect their crops from being cross-pollinated by genetically modified ones.

Though seed companies spent nearly $1 million campaigning against it, the measure passed by a 2-to-1 margin. The Earth Island Journal has some on-the-ground color from farmers explaining why they pushed for the ban:

“If we saved our own seed like we want to, then we would be growing GMO beets and chard. It would be contaminated with that pollen,” said [Elise] Higley, who also serves as director of Our Family Farms Coalition, the primary group supporting measure 15-119. “It’s a real economic risk for farmers having those GMO crops so close by.”

On the other hand, the Oregonian points out that the defense of property rights cuts both ways:

“Fundamentally, growers can choose what crops they grow,” said Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Growers League, which opposes the Jackson County measure. “This would really be the first example where one set of growers — those who don’t like GM crops — are going to tell all growers that they can and can’t grow certain crops in Jackson County.

A similar measure is expected to pass in Josephine County, just to the east. But the situation there is slightly different. That’s because last year Oregon passed a law that prevents local governments from regulating genetically engineered crops.

Jackson County is exempt from this law because its measure was already pending. Not so in Josephine County. If the measure becomes law there, it will almost certainly be challenged in the courts.


VT Digger: Trade group vows to sue over Vermont’s GMO labeling law

John Herrick
May. 12 2014
Full Article

The ink was barely dry on Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law when a national industry trade group declared it would seek to overturn it.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents cereal-maker General Mills, among others, said Friday it intends to sue the state to reverse the law.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell said Monday the state is prepared. “We’re expecting to be sued and we’ll put the A-team on the case if and when we are sued,” Sorrell said.

Food companies, retailers and biotechnology industry trade groups oppose Vermont’s law requiring manufacturers to put a one-line label on products containing genetically modified ingredients starting in 2016. Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the bill at an outdoor ceremony Thursday.

They say GMO crops pose no risk to human health or the environment; instead, they say the law will only increase food prices and complicate interstate commerce.

The vast majority of commodity crops grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered to ward off pests and withstand heavy herbicide applications. These products are used in the majority of the country’s processed foods.

Scientific research is inconclusive on whether GMO products are as safe for human consumption as their non-GMO counterparts. But environmentalists warn these crops can create untamable “super weeds” resistant to herbicides, forcing the agricultural industry to spray more weed-killing chemicals.

“So if as a consumer you’re concerned about the long-term health of our nation’s soils, water, flora and fauna … then that could be a decision as to why you don’t want to buy a GMO product,” Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, a longtime legislative leader on the issue, said this month.

But industry groups say GMO production is better for the environment because farmers can produce more crops with less land, water and fuel.

More than two dozen states are considering labeling laws. Connecticut and Maine have passed laws that will go into effect only when neighboring states follow suit – a strategy designed to shield individual states from bearing the cost of trailblazing a policy that is loathed by well-heeled industry groups.

And now the second-smallest state in the nation is has picked a fight with some of the world’s largest food manufacturers, including General Mills, a $31 billion company that opposes state labeling initiatives and is a member of the GMA.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell. Photo by Roger Crowley

Sorrell estimates defending the law could cost $1 million to win and $5 million or more to lose. The state is stockpiling $1.5 million through state appropriations and settlement surpluses to defend the law. The state also announced last week at a bill signing that it is taking private donations through a newly created defense-fund website, Foodfightfundvt.org.

The state anticipates a host of constitutional challenges, including free speech protections, interference with interstate commerce and conflicts with federal law.

One reason is consumer demand will force food producers to source more expensive non-GMO commodities to avoid what the group calls a perceived “warning” label.

“It’s more because of the perception that such a law sends to the consumers. It’s essentially a de facto warning,” said Karen Batra, a BIO spokeswoman, in an interview Monday.

This is a market decision food producers will have to make, despite indifference on the part of many consumers who care more about calories and prices, she said.

National polls indicate that 93 percent of respondents say foods containing genetically engineered ingredients should be labeled. A VTDigger poll shows overwhelming support for GMO labeling in Vermont. The chorus backing Vermont’s bill has been about a consumer’s “right to know” what is in their food.

It’s also unclear whether these food producers will stop selling to Vermont’s 626,000 residents altogether. Opponents of the labeling law say it may cost these companies less to exclude Vermont’s market than to comply.

“That’s just one of these scare tactics that industry folks are trying to build … against a law that is very popular,” Sorrell said of the possibility sale restrictions in Vermont.

He said attorneys general across the country are putting bipartisan support behind Vermont’s law.

“I think this issue of GE food labeling is going to be one that’s going to be enacted in other states going forward,” he said.

He said the Attorney General’s Office will have regulatory rules on the labeling law drafted as soon as late summer. This will include how the label will appear on the food packages. There will be a chance for the public to comment on the regulations, he said.


VT Digger: Shumlin signs landmark GMO labeling law

John Herrick
May. 8 2014
Full Article and Video

Vermont will be the first state in the nation to require food manufacturers to label products containing genetically modified ingredients. It will also likely be the first state to defend the GMO labeling law in court, state officials say.

The fight ahead did not cloud a festive bill-signing on the Statehouse steps Thursday afternoon where more than 100 pro-labeling public health advocates, lawmakers and residents cheered in support of the landmark policy.

“Vermonters have spoken loud and clear: They want to know what’s in their food,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said. “We are pro-choice. We are pro-information. Vermont gets it right with this bill.”

The law requires food manufacturers selling in Vermont to label products containing genetically engineered ingredients starting July 1, 2016. These products can also no longer be labeled “natural” or “naturally made.”

Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, who has been pushing for the bill for much of his nearly two decades in the Legislature, said Vermont’s law will create a “domino effect” across the nation.

“This is one of the cases where grassroots democracy really did win the day and hopefully we can carry it on into the future,” Zuckerman said.

Most commodity crops sold in the U.S. are genetically engineered to ward off pests and withstand applications of weed-killing herbicides. The majority of processed foods sold in supermarkets contain genetically modified ingredients.

There is no scientific consensus whether genetically modified foods are safe for consumption. But the pro-labeling chorus in Vermont was about consumers’ “right to know” what is in their food.

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell said lawmakers received letters from multinational companies threatening to challenge the state’s policy in court.

“A lot of times that scares people. But you know what? Not us,” Campbell said. “We are going to do what is right for the people of Vermont and the people of this country. And that’s to make sure that you have the right to know what is in your food.”

The biotechnology industry, which manufactures genetically engineered food products, opposes Vermont’s legislation. Industry representatives prefer a national solution instead and there have been many predictions that they will sue Vermont over the law.

The Vermont Attorney General anticipates defending the law in court, which he estimates could cost $1 million to win and $5 million or more to lose.

“The constitutionality of the GMO labeling law will undoubtedly be challenged,” Sorrell said in a statement.

“I can make no predictions or promises about how the courts will ultimately rule but I can promise that my office will mount a vigorous and zealous defense of the law that has so much support from Vermont consumers,” Sorrell said.

That’s why the bill includes a $1.5 million special fund reserved for defending the state in court. This money would be raised from state appropriations, private donations and surplus settlement proceeds. The state is taking private donations through a newly created donation website, Foodfightfundvt.org.

Paul Burns is executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which organized a grassroots campaign backing the labeling law that gathered more than 32,000 signatures across the state.

“By passing this law with no strings attached, Vermont has sent a message out loud and clear: that no company – no matter how big, no matter how rich, no matter how powerful – can deny you the right to know what’s in your food,” Burns said.

Unlike other states’ GMO labeling policies that would take effect only when neighboring states pass similar policies, Vermont’s law does not have a so-called trigger.

“We aren’t waiting for anybody else … to us it’s OK to stand up and protect our citizens,” Burns said.

But opponents of the bill question whether Vermont has a large enough market to force food manufacturers to label products.

Environmentalists point out that genetically engineered crops allow for the heavy application of weed killers, and U.S. farmers this year are using more herbicides to kill off herbicide-resistant “superweeds.”

Carl Russell chairs the board for Rural Vermont, an agricultural advocacy organization supporting the policy.

“It now gives people the opportunity to not only know what goes in their food, but it also gives them a choice to support the kind of agriculture that they want to see in the state of Vermont,” Russell said.


VPR: GMO Bill Signed, Lawsuit Expected; Shumlin Asks For Help With ‘Food Fight’ Fund

May 8, 2014Full Article and Slideshow

Vermont has become the first state in the nation to require food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically modified ingredients.

At a bill signing ceremony on the steps of the state capital, a few hundred supporters cheered Thursday as Gov. Peter Shumlin signed legislation he says will empower Vermont consumers.

“Vermonters have spoken loud and clear, they want to know what’s in their food,”  Shumlin said. “We are pro-choice. We are pro-information. Vermont gets it right with this bill.”

The majority of the corn, soybeans and canola grown in the United States are genetically engineered, mostly to resist certain pests or herbicides. That means most packaged food sold in this country contains products that were grown with genetic engineering.

Attorney General Bill Sorrell says he doesn’t yet know what the label will look like, but he is sure of one thing: “I’ll be very surprised if we are not sued,” he says, by companies like Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of genetically engineered seeds.

Monsanto hasn’t commented on Vermont’s law yet, but Sorrell says he wouldn’t be surprised if there are constitutional claims, claims that the law would compel speech or claims the law poses a burden on interstate commerce.

Many Vermonters say they’re worried about potential health risks and just want to know what’s in their food.

“There’s no requirement that you have to show that these foods are actually harmful to health in order to require a company to disclose that genetic engineering was used,” says Laura Murphy, who works in the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School.

But according to Keith Matthews, that isn’t a valid argument. Matthews is an attorney who often represents private sector clients in environmental and regulatory matters. He thinks the court would require proof that people were harmed by eating food containing GMOs.

Matthews used to work for the Environmental Protection Agency and ran the unit that registers and regulates genetically engineered crops.

“You’ve got three federal agencies that engage in rigorous review of these products and determine that there is no risk, that they don’t cause any adverse effects in the environmental context when they’re being grown,” he says. “Nor do they pose any risk to humans when they’re consumed.”

Debate over the potential risks of genetically engineered food is heated. Most scientists say there’s no evidence of harm in eating foods made with genetic engineering.

But anti-GMO advocates say the long-term effects aren’t yet known. Some countries have taken a more cautious approach, and Vermont seeks to emulate the European Union, where labeling rules have been in place for more than a decade. U.S. law, however, is different.

Without a change to federal regulations, Vermont’s statute is likely to face major challenges. But the state lawmakers who wrote the law say they’re ready for that. The legislation includes a $1.5 million legal fund to help cover costs if the state loses in court.

And at the signing ceremony, Shumlin announced the formation of a legal defense fund, called the Food Fight Fund, and asked people from across the country to contribute.


VT Digger: Glenn Gilchrist: Vermont identified as a hotbed of science denial

May 7, 2014
By Glenn Gilchrist
Full Article

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Glenn Gilchrist, an environmentalist who has worked with both national and grassroots organizations. He is also a nature photographer and freelance writer. His blog is at www.glenngilchrist.com.

Can you imagine a circumstance that would prompt serious journalists with national exposure to equate Vermonters in general and their lawmakers specifically with “climate change skeptics” and “science denying creationists”? Well, Vermonter, it seems that your insistence on being informed about the contents of the food you eat has just relegated you to the scrap heap of scientific ignorance and denial. At least that is how some journalists are telling it.

Our critics, who include writers for Forbes and Discover Magazine, state that the evidence supporting GMO food safety is so convincing that no further debate is required and that GMO skeptics are no more credible than any other science denier. Not only do they discount all arguments that question GMO food safety, they also ignore the many other important and related issues addressed in Vermont H.112.

Trevor Butterworth, writing for Forbes, states in his post “Science Free News Coverage of Vermont GMO Labeling” that reporters should be characterizing Vermont’s legislation as a misrepresentation of scientific expertise. He writes that media coverage of the legislation is biased, and with the exception of a Reuters news article, completely lacks scientific comment by geneticists or biologists.

The Reuters article references a statement made last October by a “Group of 93” international scientists who said there was a lack of empirical and scientific evidence to support false claims by the bio-tech industry about a “consensus” on safety. So while Butterworth is pleased to hear from science, he dismisses this particular group as unqualified.

In other words, Butterworth asserts that Vermont lawmakers ignored, or were ignorant of science when they crafted GMO labeling legislation, and the media as a whole is guilty of the same.

Note however, that Vermont H.112 does not exactly ignore the issue of science as noted here in Section 1 (D):

“… the FDA regulates genetically engineered foods in the same way it regulates foods developed by traditional plant breeding, but, according to Dr. James Maryanski, FDA biotechnology coordinator (1985−2008), the decision to regulate genetically engineered food in this manner was a political decision not based in science” (emphasis added).

Butterworth refers us to an “excellent” discussion of GMO science by Keith Kloor, a distinguished, generally progressive journalist writing on Discovery Magazine’s blog (“GMOs, Journalism and False Balance”) where he characterizes the “Group of 93 “ as a “fringy, science denying group (on the issue of GMO safety, anyway).”

The group, by the way, has grown to 297 scientists and professionals associated with the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER).

ENSSER responds in “297 scientists and experts agree GMOs not proven safe” with comments by Dr. Sheldon Krimsky of Tufts University that:

“Adverse consequences of GMO crops are not restricted to keeling over dead after eating genetically adulterated unlabeled food (GAUF). My concerns include subtle changes in nutritional quality or mycotoxins, increasing food allergens, unsustainable farming practices, dependency on chemical inputs, lack of transparency in evaluating food quality and safety, and the transformation of farming practices into a modern form of serfdom, where the seed is intellectual property leased by the farmer” (emphasis added).

Note that the ENSSER statement extends the argument well beyond just food safety, as does Vermont in Section 1 (G) of H.112:

“The result is public uncertainty about the nutrition, health, safety, environmental impacts, and the proliferation of genetic engineering technology …”

Butterworth and Kloor discount the opinions of the group because not all of the scientists who signed the statement are geneticists, and because one of them, Gilles-Eric Séralin, authored a study that was subsequently denounced by critics – about which the Economist reported “that the journal’s publisher said there was no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data.”

If we look at the facts, we find that the group of 297 signatories (as of Oct. 31, 2013) may not all be geneticists, but the majority are engaged in some area of science or agriculture. It is safe to assume that most are familiar with the concept of the scientific method and can read a scientific paper beyond the abstract. But the point is moot – focusing on and then discounting the work of one group of scientists does not discount their entire field of study.

The reality is that the scientific literature is rife with examples of animal studies that support GMO product safety. It is also rife with studies that shed doubt on GMO product safety. It is also true that there are far more scientists than the Group of 297 voicing serious concerns. For example, Dr. Don Huber, a leading GMO expert, award-winning, internationally recognized scientist, and professor of plant pathology at Purdue University for the past 35 years, has stated clearly that there are no peer-reviewed scientific papers establishing the safety of GMO crops.

It seems obvious that what we have here does not constitute a consensus, yet Kloor states that by giving these scientists a voice, the media is guilty of “false balance” and has created a “false equivalence.” He compares GMO label proponents with climate change deniers as if the weight of evidence purported by the different sides of these differing subjects was identical.

Butterworth and Kloor suggest we be guided by the statements of medical and scientific institutions, such as the American Medical Association (whose expertise in both nutrition and agriculture is questionable) and the National Academy of Sciences.

While prestigious institutions, one must be cautious about embracing them as The Ultimate Authority and realize that in today’s business climate, even they are capable of commercial bias and mistakes. It is quite dangerous to defer our own conclusions to those of entrenched institutions based on assumed authority, especially when the stakes are this high. It is even more difficult when one considers that over 60 countries, including those of the European Union, have banned or seriously restricted the sale of GMO foods. And more difficult yet when one realizes the complete lack of any human trials.

If this seems a bit harsh one need only recall a time when the AMA and many physicians advised patients that there were no ill effects attributable to smoking tobacco and, in fact, saw a proliferation of advertising such as “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!” Furthermore, the pages of The New England Journal of Medicine and The Journal of the American Medical Association hosted and profited from many tobacco advertisements for a very, very long time.

As mentioned above, there are many published animal studies – and some claim to prove the safety of GMO food products. Many authors cite a 2011 study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology titled “Assessment of the health impact of GM plant diets in long-term and multigenerational animal feeding trials: A literature review,” for example. The lead author was Chelsea Snell, a student at the University of Nottingham at the time of the study. Full text here.

The authors examined “12 long-term studies (of more than 90 days, up to 2 years in duration) and 12 multigenerational studies (from 2 to 5 generations)” and concluded that “Results from all the 24 studies do not suggest any health hazards and, in general, there were no statistically significant differences within parameters observed.”

Snell et al. summarized each of the 24 animal studies they reviewed, included the original researchers’ main findings and interpretations, and then added their own opinions about how the study designs may have affected the validity of the findings.

Of the 24 studies they reviewed, many reported differences between animals fed GMO foods compared to controls who ate non-GMO varieties. Differences such as elevated metabolic rates and changes in pancreatic, liver and other organ function were common.

Snell et al. respond by reporting experimental design problems with each of the studies that showed differences between GMO and non-GMO fed animals and even with studies that showed no difference between GMO and non-GMO groups. This would suggest the possibility that current (or their chosen) research models are weak and that more and better research need be done. Instead Snell et al. suggest that their review somehow proves the safety of GMO foods. Once again, what we have here can hardly be considered a consensus.

Furthermore, the studies described in the review span only 90 days to two years, were conducted mostly on rats and mice, and do not dispute the position stated in Vermont H.112 Section 1 G that: “There have been no long-term studies in the United States that examine the safety of human consumption of genetically engineered foods.”

On the contrary their findings do support the concerns of Vermonter’s expressed in Section 1B:

“(A) Independent studies in laboratory animals indicate that the ingestion of genetically engineered foods may lead to health problems such as gastrointestinal damage, liver and kidney damage, reproductive problems, immune system interference, and allergic responses.”

Butterworth diminishes and derides the Vermont legislation and subsequent media attention by reducing the issue simply to our desire to be seen as fighting “a battle between brave, concerned citizens and bad big business.”

Yet we know that much of the research done on GMO safety is funded directly or indirectly by agribusinesses who have a vested interest in the outcomes. We know that trade organizations such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association have spent millions of dollars combating state and federal GMO labeling laws and indoctrinating the public with the idea that GMO labeling will create an undue hardship on businesses. That changing labels will cost millions of dollars – costs that will be passed on to consumers. Give it some time, and we’ll even hear that labeling will cost jobs!

Another possible interpretation is that agribusiness stakeholders are worried that once products are labeled as containing GMOs, people may choose not to buy them. Because really, are label changes on consumer products all that uncommon? And expensive? Of course not. But allowing GMO products to be put at a competitive disadvantage by simply telling us what they are – that is just unacceptable to their business interests. So labels be damned.

This, like most debates, is ultimately a question of values; values relevant not just to foods, but to many areas, such as pharmaceuticals, toxic effects of resource extraction and so many more.

Do we ingest (or otherwise consume) things until they are proven dangerous, or do we avoid those things we perceive to be dangerous until it is proven that they are safe.

… and …

In matters of health and nutrition (to name just a few), do we have the right to know?


The Complete Patient: Why the Food Oligarchs Hate GMO Labeling

by: David Gumpert
04/24/2014
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Don’t underestimate the importance of Vermont’s passage of a GMO-labeling law. 

Tiny Vermont (population 626,000) is the first of what will likely be a number of states to confront America’s food oligarchy and try to force these cartels to actually do something their customers want. How will the oligarchs respond? 

Almost certainly not the way they should, which would be to adjust their food labels to include information about which ingredients are genetically modified. More likely, they will respond with legal maneuvering, possibly including a suit against Vermont, and heavy lobbying of their political pals in Washington to put a hold on the Vermont law, which is due to go into effect July 1, 2016, more than two years out. 

The oligarchs have been dodging and weaving like crazy to avoid having to disclose their heavy use of genetically-modified ingredients, for fear of losing business to foods without the stuff that makes people nervous (and likely sick). They spent heavily to defeat citizen initiatives requiring labeling in California and Washington in 2012 and 2013. Several states that passed labeling laws, like Maine and Connecticut, made them contingent on neighboring states passing them. 

The oligarchs say the GMO labeling requirement is too cumbersome, too costly, etc., etc. They say that, all while Coca Cola, one of the oligarchs, in a recent legal case maintained its Minute Maid subsidiary should be allowed to continue deceptive labeling that enables it to call its apple-grape juice (99 per cent of the ingredients) a “Pomegranate blueberry blend” to “support brain and body,” even though those ingredients are less than one per cent. (The fact that “support brain and body” is a health claim gets completely ignored in the legal arguments.)

We see the same behavior in the dairy arena, where the cartel stands in the way of any American research into the health benefits of raw milk, and opposes in states around the country any expansion of access to raw milk. The idea is to force-feed people the processed stuff, much the same as the idea is to force-feed Americans GMO-tainted food. 

Aside: why do I call these corporations and their executives “oligarchs”? Because much of our food system is controlled by a few large corporations. One example of this expanding oligopoly control is in America’s huge meat industry.  Here is how journalist Christopher Leonard describes the producers of chicken, pork, and beef in a new book, The Meat Racket: “Just a handful of companies produce nearly all the meat consumed in the United States…..a powerful oligarchy of corporations that determines how animals are raised, how much farmers get paid, and how meat is processed, all while reaping massive profits and remaining almost opaque to the consumer.” 

(The companies are Smithfield, Tyson Foods, JBS, and Cargill.) 

Our media have fun with the notion of the Russian “oligarchs” who run that country, but have difficulty coming to grips with the reality that the U.S. is run similarly. 

Bottom line, the food oligarchy is afraid of the competition inherent in the labeling requirement, just as they are afraid of the competition inherent in widening access to raw milk. These corporations know that consumers will avoid products with GMO ingredients. The corporations will be forced to lower prices, and squeeze their profit margins, to convince people to buy these genetically altered products.

Oligarchs don’t compete. They beat up the competition, ignore their customers, anything to avoid being honest and forthright. Congrats to Vermont’s politicians for deciding to part company with the oligarchs.