Can money and power buy truth? In California, we’re about to find out. Because if you think you are informed enough to vote no on Prop 37, and please pardon my presumption, but unless you work for Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, Pepsico, Bayer, BASF, Kraft or Coca-Cola, you probably aren’t. Don’t take my word for it. Read the first four pages of State of the Science on the Health Risks of GM Foods prepared by the Institute for Responsible Technology. Considering that Americans are now eating their weight in GMOs every year (which is an underestimate, particularly for children and Hispanics), the fact that “virtually no long-term health studies have been done on consumption of genetically engineered food,”  should perhaps be a concern.
But wait, some of you may quite reasonably be thinking, “What do you mean ‘virtually no long-term studies have been done?’” How do they know that GMOs are safe then? Put a check mark next to that question. By law any novel ingredient (i.e. additive) introduced into the food supply has to go through testing to make sure it’s safe right? Yup. That is except if you happen to be a GMO product in which case we simply assume it’s safe and throw it into the food supply sight unseen, and untested. In the US, the legal standard for granting “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) status to any new food product or additive requires that “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.” GMO products have neither. Yet in 1992 GMOs were given GRAS status by the FDA based on, wait for it, industry assurances that they were safe because they were “substantially equivalent” to their parent food. To this day the FDA does not require any safety testing (or labeling) of GMOs. They can be introduced into the food supply without so much as a “how do you do” or DBA announcement in the local paper. GM products can be, and are, put into your food without notifying any regulatory or safety body what, where, when or how.
I would suggest that if you think genetically modified foods are safe as the original parent food, you haven’t read what scientists who have studied them have to say. But again, don’t take my word for it.
“The American Academy of Environmental Medicine this year said that genetically modified foods, according to animal studies are causally linked to accelerated aging, dysfunctional immune regulation, organ damage, gastrointestinal distress, and immune system damage.
And this from FDA scientists during their original review of GMOs,
“…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, … “References to the unintended negative effects of bioengineering were progressively deleted from drafts of the policy statement (over the protests of agency scientists).”
If you’re surprised or perhaps a wee bit incredulous about any of this, please read just the first four pages of State of the Science on the Health Risks of GM Foods for a more comprehensive review of the history of the (lack of) safety testing and (lack of) regulation of GM products.
So, back to the issue at hand, why label GMOs? Well, before delving into that issue, it may be illuminating to examine why we think we need GMOs in the first place. Most of us ‘know’ that GMOs are designed to help feed people, to make more food available, in places and in quantities it hasn’t been or with novel nutritional qualities it hasn’t had before . Most people believe that GMOs are a welcome and necessary new technology to help feed a growing population from a shrinking arable land base. The idea of feeding more people more efficiently is appealing and desirable. It is human nature to want to trust what we have been told, especially when it is relates to helping people. But is this really how GM crops work in the real world, is this really what they do?
Necessity of GMOs
Most people assume that the purported, and oft-repeated, claims regarding the purpose and benefits of GMOs are accurate. But is this a valid assumption? And if you’re one of the people who is generally positively predisposed, or is at least lacking negative predisposition, to the use of GMOs, at least in part based on the belief that GMOs are doing what they have been marketed, represented, and sold to the public as doing, have you actually seen evidence supporting that belief?
So what are the assumptions regarding the purpose and efficacy of GMOs? The most fundamental assumption is that they are necessary to feed everyone, and while it is true that yields may initially increase after the introduction of GMO crops, this does not equate to necessarily being less expensive or more sustainable in the long run. These longer-term effects have only recently been able to be studied and quantified. The results? Well, we’ll get to that, but they aren’t what we’ve been led to believe.
For starters, 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. So we have more, a lot more plants that can be be sprayed with all the herbicide you want, or simply produce enough of the stuff by themselves that you (purportedly) won’t need to add more. So one of the first things that is happening is that since the introduction of these GM crops, the use of pesticides has increased dramatically. And those increases are becoming more and more substantial the longer GM crops are used.
Over 80% of all GMOs grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance. As a result, use of toxic herbicides like Roundup has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced (a 404 million pound increase in overall pesticide use from 1996 through 2011)..
As a result the amount of pesticide on the food you are consuming has increased dramatically as well. So much so that the EU had to increase its maximum allowable pesticide residue by a factor of 200 in order for these new GM crops to be sold legally.
So we are using substantially more pesticides as a result of the introduction of GMO crops and leaving more toxic residues both in the environment and in our bodies, but are these products helping farmers? Are they helping us to feed people that wouldn’t otherwise be fed? Are they making our food production process more stable and sustainable, or less? Let’s look at what folks who have taken more time than you or I to study these assertions have to say.
“A study came out by the Union of Concerned Scientists confirming … that genetically modified crops, on average, reduce yield. A USDA report from 2006 showed that farmers don’t actually increase income from GMOs, but many actually lose income. And for the last several years, the United States has been forced to spend $3-$5 billion per year to prop up prices of GM crops.
GE crops have led to resistance, both in weeds and pests, leaving farmers to struggle with an increasingly difficult situation. More than two dozen weed species are now resistant to glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup. Rapidly increasing weed resistance is now driving up the volume of herbicide needed by about 25 percent annually. [And resulted in the necessity to revert to more toxic pesticides such as 2,4-D, also produced by, you guessed it, Monsanto.]
The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, is the most comprehensive evaluation of world agriculture ever. It was a three-year collaborative effort with 900 participants and 110 countries, and was co-sponsored by the World Bank, FAO, UNESCO, and the WHO. The behemoth effort evaluated the last 50 years of agriculture, and prescribed the methods that were now needed to meet the development and sustainability goals of reducing hunger and poverty, improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods, and facilitating social and environmental sustainability. And GMOs were not one of those needed methods…
According to a report submitted to the Human Rights Council of the UN General Assembly by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, the promise of agroecology has already been shown to not only provide greater food production compared to chemical-intensive GM food technologies, but also to be more accessible and sustainable to those who are most in need.
“If we are going to make headway in combating hunger due to overpopulation and climate change, we will need to increase crop yields. Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.”
To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available. And today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production in regions where the hungry live…. We won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations.
How often have we heard that organic farming can’t feed the planet? Guess what? You’ve been lied to…again.
Research commissioned by the Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures project of the UK Government reviewed 40 projects in 20 African countries where sustainable intensification was developed during the 2000s. The projects included crop improvements (particularly improvements through participatory plant breeding on hitherto neglected orphan crops), integrated pest management, soil conservation and agro-forestry. By early 2010, these projects had documented benefits for 10.39 million farmers and their families and improvements on approximately 12.75 million hectares. Crop yields more than doubled on average (increasing 2.13-fold) over a period of 3-10 years.
So on the one hand we have a chemically intensive and expensive system that has made all manner of promises about increasing food production through various forms of technology-driven (read profit-driven) mechanisms while on the other we have a system that is “grounded in local material, cultural, and intellectual resources”, that directly benefits poor farmers, is more sustainable and actually reduces carbon inputs to the atmosphere rather than increasing them. The question then becomes, “which would you prefer: double your yield for a price (to buy the seeds and fertilizer) or double the yield for free (via agroecology)? You’d prefer to save your money and to use it for a medical emergency, or for a grain mill, or school for your kid, or whatever.”
Safety of GMOs
What about safety? Over and over again we have been told that GMOs are “substantially equivalent” to the foods they are derived from. In order to bring them to market without the normal safety testing required of any food additive, they were granted “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) status by the FDA in 1992. The legal requirements for GRAS status require that “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, and have, neither.
From the editor of the medical journal Lancet,
“It is astounding that the US Food and Drug Administration has not changed their stance on genetically modified food adopted in 1992…. Governments should never have allowed these products into the food chain without insisting on rigorous testing for effects on health.”
While the Royal Society of Canada described substantial equivalence as “scientifically unjustifiable and inconsistent with precautionary regulation of the technology.”
If we are to believe industry claims, the reasoning supporting the safety of GMOs goes something like this: “Obviously GMO foods have been adequately tested or they wouldn’t have been found to be safe by the FDA, and therefore, since we know they are safe, there’s no reason to be worried about them, or to test them anymore.” The biggest flaw in this reasoning is not its circular logic, but the assumption that any adequate, impartial testing has ever been done on these products in the first place. In the process of granting GRAS status to GMOs, all of the “safety” data came directly from their manufacturers. (Which is now standard operating practice for the NIH, FDA and USDA.) In reality, attempts by independent researchers to do studies on long-term health effects of GMO foods are directly hindered by the manufacturers for patent-protection and proprietary reasons. When you hear that these products have been found to be “substantially equivalent” and “as safe as” non-GMO foods, you should consider the hundreds of millions of dollars of profits that are being protected by keeping these foods unlabeled, as well as the inherently corruptible regulatory agencies whose funding and data is significantly dependent on the industries they are supposed to be regulating.
What do other scientists who are not employed by Big Ag, biotech or food manufacturers have to report? In its position paper on GMOs the American Academy of Environmental Medicine writes,
There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation as defined by Hill’s Criteria in the areas of strength of association, consistency, specificity, biological gradient, and biological plausibility.The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animal studies.
Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation, including upregulation of cytokines associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation. Animal studies also show altered structure and function of the liver, including altered lipid and carbohydrate metabolism as well as cellular changes that could lead to accelerated aging…. Changes in the kidney, pancreas and spleen have also been documented. A recent 2008 study links GM corn with infertility, showing a significant decrease in offspring over time and significantly lower litter weight in mice fed GM corn. This study also found that over 400 genes were found to be expressed differently in the mice fed GM corn. [Author’s note: There are only 300 genes that differentiate the human genome from the mouse genome to begin with.] These are genes known to control protein synthesis and modification, cell signaling, cholesterol synthesis, and insulin regulation. Studies also show intestinal damage in animals fed GM foods, including proliferative cell growth and disruption of the intestinal immune system.
And for health-conscious individuals who have taken principle-driven actions to change their diet, sometimes not just for personal health but for environmental and ethical reasons, just what do you think you’re eating when you sit down at your favorite vegan restaurant and order any one of a number of remarkably tasty meat substitutes? Unless you have asked the server, or the cook, or the owner directly and been told (hopefully truthfully) that your tofu, or tempeh, or soy chicken, is organic, the chances are quite good (94% of soy grown in the US is GMO) that not only are you eating a highly-processed food product that comes directly from a factory but that it is also a GM ‘food’.
Remember who you’re dealing with. These are the people who brought you dioxin, agent orange PCBs, and terminator seed technology all with fervent and prolonged assurances that they were completely safe. No matter how much you might wish it to be so, no matter how long you have taken their word that it is actually true, genetically modified foods are not about feeding the planet. They are another piece in the puzzle to create and maintain control of agricultural production and food distribution. These companies have filed hundreds of lawsuits against non-GMO farmers when pollen from transgenic crops contaminated neighboring fields, not only forcing them to pay royalties to avoid prosecution for patent infringement but also compelling them to turn over all information regarding their seed providers. Hundreds of farmers, seed providers and seed cleaners have been bought out or forced out of business in the United States because of these law suits. Farmers, even those who do not want to grow GM foods, must pay royalties to Monsanto and other biotech firms for the privilege of having their fields contaminated with transgenic DNA, and then must continue to buy seeds from them or be subject to further legal action. In nearly every case these industry lawsuits have been upheld including in Canada’s highest court and the US Supreme Court.
The purpose of GMOs are first and foremost about creating markets for profit-driven companies so they can maintain monopolistic control over every aspect of our food cycle. Just ask the farmers in India who believed that this new technology would raise their production, and reduce their dependence on expensive chemical inputs. Ask the families of the more than two hundred and fifty thousand Indian farmers who have committed suicide in the last sixteen years (often drinking the pesticides they can no longer afford) when the promise of GMOs instead became a perfect storm of crop failure, environmental degradation, physical illness, financial insolvency and complete dependence on ever-increasing amounts of insecticides, pesticides and patented, proprietary, terminator-technology seeds.
Many people may not want to know just how many products they are consuming that contain GMOs. In the US (for the time being) this really isn’t a problem however, because unlike the EU, Australia, Brazil, China, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea, in the United States you simply don’t have the right to know whether these products are in your food so there’s no way to know how much you’re consuming. And hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent, along with immense amounts of lobbying, advertising, back-door regulatory cronyism and PR over many decades to make sure you continue to not have that right.
So, why label GMOs? This should not even be the question when in truth, the most fundamental question “Why use GMOs in the first place?” has not been adequately addressed or honestly presented to the American public.
It makes sense to know what you’re putting in body. There should be transparent, long-term safety testing of novel biotechnologies before releasing them into the environment and taking them into our bodies. Everyone should be able to make their own decisions regarding their food and health. But right now, not only do we not know these things, we are being flooded with propaganda to convince us that such concerns are entirely unnecessary. It’s not only that you don’t know. You don’t have the right to know. This is massively profitable proprietary technology…that, in its current form and use, we don’t need and shouldn’t be using in the first place. Who are you going to trust? It’s your call.
Again, please don’t take my word for this. Educate yourself, read the footnotes and pick some of the references to peruse so you can better appreciate how much we have been kept in the dark about the real effects, and dangers of GMOs. And if you’re wondering about something to do…go to the “No on 37” Facebook page, or websites and post this in their comments section. Pass it along to anyone you think might vote no and ask them to do the same.
Websites to visit:
1. Institute for Responsible Technology (“The most comprehensive source of GMO health risk information on the web.”) http://www.responsibletechnology.org/
Visit their Resources page (http://www.responsibletechnology.org/resources).
2. State of the Science on the Health Risks of GM Foods http://www.responsibletechnology.org/docs/145.pdf
If you’re gonna do nothing else, click on this link and read the first 3 or 4 pages of this report…and pass it along to anyone you know who is undecided or likely to vote No on 37.
3. “GMO Myths and Truths: An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops”
http://earthopensource.org/files/pdfs/GMO_Myths_and_Truths/GMO_Myths_and_Truths_1.3b.pdf This is a 123 page document that is comprehensive, written by experts in the field, and well referenced.
4. “All GM Field Trials in India to be Stopped” 30 Oct 2012. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/10/30/gm-crop-field-trials.aspx
This is a good review article of the current situations and challenges presented by GM foods and the effort to require them to be labeled. Includes a list of common foods made from GM products (including TVP, Vitamin C, high-fructose corn syrup and many others).
5. “Why Glyphosphate Should Be Banned,” Institute of Science in Society Special Report. 10 Oct 2012. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Why_Glyphosate_Should_be_Banned.php
6. Millions Against Monsanto. http://www.organicconsumers.org/monsanto/ Background and history of Monsanto and current worldwide actions by and against them.
1. Genetic Roulette ,11min remix.
“There are only nine genetically modified food crops [soy, corn (not popcorn), cottonseed(for oil), canola (for oil), sugar beets (for sugar), papaya, zucchini, yellow crookneck squash and alfalfa (for hay)] but their derivatives are found in over 70% of the foods found in the supermarket, particularly processed foods.”
2. Genetic Roulette Part 7, 3 mins. Coverup of data and discrediting, firing and defunding of scientists who report unfavorable GMO study results.
3. Genetic Roulette full film, 85 mins
4. Dr. Mercola, Support Proposition 37. 5 mins
6. “Brought to You by Monsanto” 45 secs.
1. Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating by Jeffrey Smith.“The world’s bestselling and #1 rated book on GMOs.”
2. Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods by Jeffrey Smith. “…documents 65 health risks of the GM foods Americans eat everyday.”
3. The Unhealthy Truth by Robyn O’Brien
1. State of the Science on the Health Risks of GM Foods. http://www.responsibletechnology.org/docs/145.pdf
2. “Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops” http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/failure-to-yield.html
3. “Discussion paper on GMOs for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians House Of Delegates, 2009” http://nyanp.org/discussionpapersongmos.aspx
 Who have contributed over $44 million so far to the “No on 37” public relations campaign. (http://farmfutures.com/story.aspx/campaign-funding-defeat-california-prop-37-tops-44m-0-64542)
Groundbreaking New UN Report on How to Feed the World’s Hungry: Ditch Corporate-Controlled Agriculture. http://www.alternet.org/story/150158/groundbreaking_new_un_report_on_how_to_feed_the_world%27s_hungry%3A_ditch_corporate-controlled_agriculture
 http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/03/08/953788/-Oh-Oh-OMG-Oh-yes-UN-Report-Just-Gave-Me-an-Orgasm by Jill Richardson reviewing the
 Ibid. p.2
 Ibid. p.2
 “Genetically Modified Foods” by The American Academy of Environmental Medicine. (please refer to the article itself for direct references to the multiple studies they reviewed) http://aaemonline.org/gmopost.html
 http://www.txtwriter.com/backgrounders/Compgenomes/compgenomes1.html “A comparison of the two genomes reveals that both have about 30,000 genes, and they share the bulk of them—the human genome shares 99% of its genes with mice. There are only 300 genes unique to either organism, about 1% of the genome.”
 Op cit. “Genetically Modified Foods”, fifth paragraph
 One recent hopeful example to the contrary is one Saskatchewan’s farmer fight against Monsanto chronicled in a new documentary, “David vs. Monsanto” http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/11/03/david-versus-monsanto.aspx?e_cid=20121103_DNL_art_1
 http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/10/30/gm-crop-field-trials.aspx As a result, a five-member Technical Expert Committee (TEC) appointed by the Supreme Court of India unanimously recommended that all GM field trials in India should be stopped. The Committee also recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials of all Bt food crops and a moratorium on field trials of herbicide-tolerant crops until an independent assessment has evaluated its “impact” and “suitability”.