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Genetically Modified Organisms
As we all know stories of tobacco, asbestos, and DDT. Originally declared safe, they caused widespread death and disease. Although their impact was vast, most of the population was spared.
The same cannot be said for sweeping changes in the food supply. Everyone eats;everyone is affected. The increase in several diseases in North America may be due to the profound changes in our diet. The most radical change occurred a little over a decade ago when genetically modified (GM) crops were introduced.
Their influence on health has been largely ignored, but recent studies show serious problems. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been linked to thousands of toxic or allergic‐type reactions, thousands of sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ and system studied in lab animals.
Nearly every independent animal feeding safety study shows adverse or unexplained effects.
GM foods were made possible by a technology developed in the 1970s whereby genes from one species are forced into the DNA of other species. Genes produce proteins, which in turn can generate characteristics or traits. The promised traitsassociated with GMOs have been sky high—vegetables growing in the desert, vitamin fortified grains, and highly productive crops feeding the starving millions.
None of these are available.
In fact, the only two traits that are found in nearly all commericialized GM plants are herbicide tolerance and/or pesticide production. Herbicide tolerant soy, corn, cotton, and canola plants are engineered with bacterial genes that allow them to survive otherwise deadly doses of herbicides. This gives farmers more flexibility in weeding and gives the GM seed company lots more profit. When farmers buy GM seeds, they sign a contract to buy only that seed producer’s brand of herbicide. Herbicide tolerant crops comprise about 80% of all GM plants. The other 20% are corn and cotton varieties that produce a pesticide in every cell. This is accomplished due to a gene from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt, which produces a natural insect‐killing poison called Bt‐toxin. In addition to these two traits, there are also disease resistant GM Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and crook neck squash, which comprise well under 1% of GMO acreage.
TH E F D A ’S “N O N‐R E G U L A T I O N” O F GM F O O D S
Rhetoric from the United States government since the early 1990s proclaims that GM foods are no different from their natural counterparts that have existed for centuries. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has labeled them “Generally Recognized as Safe,” or GRAS. This status allows a product to be commercialized without any additional testing. According to US law, to be considered GRAS the substance must be the subject of a substantial amount of peer‐reviewed published studies (or equivalent) and there must be overwhelming consensus among the scientific community that the product is safe. GM foods had neither. Nonetheless, in a precedent‐setting move in 1992 that some experts contend was illegal, the FDA declared that GM crops are GRAS as long as their producers say they are. Thus, the FDA does not require any safety evaluations or labeling of GMOs. A company can even introduce a GM food to the market without telling the agency.
Such a lenient approach was largely the result of the influence of large agricultural corporations According to Henry Miller, who had a leading role in biotechnology issues at the FDA from 1979 to 1994, “In this area, the US government agencies have done exactly what big agribusiness has asked them to do and told them to do.”
The Ag biotech company with the greatest influence was clearly Monsanto. According to the New York Times,“What Monsanto wished for from Washington, Monsanto and, by extension, the biotechnology industry got.When the company abruptly decided that it needed to throw off the regulations and speed its foods to market, the White House quickly ushered through an unusually generous policy of self‐policing.”
This policy was heralded by Vice President Dan Quayle on May 26, 1992. He chaired the Council on Competitiveness, which had identified GM crops as an industry that could boost US exports. To take advantage, Quayle announced “reforms” to “speed up and simplify the process of bringing” GM products to market without “being hampered by unnecessary regulation.”
Three days later, the FDA policy on non‐regulation was unveiled.The person who oversaw its development was the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Michael Taylor,whose position had been created especially for him in 1991. Prior to that, Taylor was an outside attorney for both Monsanto and the Food Biotechnology Council. After working at the FDA, he became Monsanto’s vice president.
TH E F D A C O V E R S U P H E A L T H R I S K S
Taylor’s policy needed to create the impression that unintended effects from GM crops were not an issue.Otherwise their GRAS status would be undermined and they would need the extensive testing and labels that are normally required for food additives. But internal memos made public from a lawsuit showed that the overwhelming consensus among the agency scientists was that GM crops can have unpredictable, hard‐to‐ detect side effects. Various departments and experts spelled these out in detail, listing allergies, toxins,nutritional effects, and new diseases as potential dangers. They urged superiors to require long‐term safety studies.
In spite of the warnings, according to public interest attorney Steven Druker who studied the FDA’s internal files, “References to the unintended negative effects of bioengineering were progressively deleted from drafts of the policy statement (over the protests of agency scientists).”
FDA microbiologist Louis Pribyl, PhD, wrote about the policy, “What has happened to the scientific elements of this document? Without a sound scientific base to rest on, this becomes a broad, general, ‘What do I have to do to avoid trouble’‐type document. . . . It will look like and probably be just a political document. . . . It reads very pro‐industry, especially in the area of unintended effects.”
The scientists’ concerns were not only ignored, their very existence was denied. The official FDA policy stated, “The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.”
In sharp contrast, an internal FDA report stated, “The processes of genetic engineering and traditional breeding are different and according to the technical experts in the agency, they lead to different risks.”
The FDA’s deceptive notion of no difference was coined “substantial equivalence” and formed the basis of the US government position on GMOs.Many scientists and organizations have criticized the US position. The National Academy of Sciences and even the pro‐GM Royal Society of London describe the US system as inadequate and flawed. The editor of the prestigious journal Lancet said, “It is astounding that the US Food and Drug Administration has not changed their stance on genetically modified food adopted in 1992. . . .
The policy is that genetically modified crops will receive the same consideration for potential health risks as any other new crop plant.
This stance is taken despite good reasons to believe that specific risks may exist. . . . Governments should never have allowed these products into the food chain without insisting on rigorous testing for effects on health.”
The Royal Society of Canada described substantial equivalence as “scientifically unjustifiable and not with precautionary regulation of the technology.”inconsistent