I came across a very interesting and useful website today and decided on it as the topic for today’s post. I have been reading up about GM(Genetically modified) crops for some time now and have been writing about it too. The thing that worried me the most was that in the US we did not have a choice as to at least know what kind of food we were consuming. GM or non-GM does not seem to matter as far the FDA is concerned.
The Non GMO Project is is a non-profit organization, created by leaders representing all sectors of the organic and natural products industry in the U.S. and Canada, to offer consumers a consistent non-GMO choice for organic and natural products that are produced without genetic engineering or recombinant DNA technologies.
What does it provide?
It has a consumer section with an abundance of information about GMO products, a printable shopping guide with a list of brands which are non-GMO and tips as to what you need to look for etc…
The NonGMO Product website answers the question Are GMOs safe? as follows:
In 30 other countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GMOs, because they are not considered proven safe. In the U.S. on the other hand, the FDA approved commercial production of GMOs based on studies conducted by the companies who created them and profit from their sale. Many health-conscious shoppers find the lack of rigorous, independent, scientific examination on the impact of consuming GM foods to be cause for concern.
The iPhone app for non-GMO shopping – There is an iphone app which verifies whether a product is non-GMO certified you can download it here
Check the website out and bookmark it (I already did). It has a lot of information and a lot of help if you care about what you eat. Being informed that is the least we should be expecting when making our choices. Looking forward to an informed and non-GM, Sustainable lifestyle! Live Green!
I am still very much engrossed in Genetic Roulette it is 300 pages long and choke-full of information! As I wrote in the earlier posts GM foods and seeds have been of interest for me for some years now and I like most people thought “Well if the US FDA tags them safe, they must be safe!” On reading “Genetic Roulette” what I realized is how callous the system we trust to protect us is…
World over policy makers also go by the US FDA guidelines as it is one of the most trusted and touted organizations in the world when it comes to food and drug administration. It is assumed wrongly that the approval to GMO is done after extensive tests by the FDA or related organizations. The tests and research are carried out by the developers themselves (kind of like new medicines are tested by the very labs which manufacture them and then later on when there are severe reactions or even fatalities some whistle blower comes out and says “well the company knew that was possible, but was in a hurry to get the medicine out as it was a very small minority which showed a reaction to it etc…) and most of these studies are kept under wraps in the guise of “Confidential Business Information”. Very limited data of these studies are available for us to look at.
Jeffrey says in his book about how Genetic Engineering or Genetic Modification is looked up on as if DNA (Deoxy Ribo Nucleic Acid) is like Lego blocks and one could move pieces in and out as one pleases. He says the truth couldn’t be farther from it. He compares it to a well written book which is taken apart; pages and lines and even words are jumbled together and put back together with no particular order to it… will it make any sense? I guess not. He goes on to add when genes are messed with the changes in the DNA can produce massive changes in the functioning of the plant’s natural DNA. Inserted or spliced genes can mutate and produce un-intended characteristics.
In 1992 when Genetically Modified crops made their debut the FDA said “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” and on that basis they said no safety studies are necessary and that “Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety”! This was also when there was an overwhelming consensus amongst the technical experts in the agency that GM crops were meaningfully different and still the 1992 policy was put into place. During this time Michael Taylor, who had previously worked as a lawyer for Monsanto, was Deputy Commissioner for Policy to oversee policy development.
Jeffrey Smith also says that the 44,000 pages worth of info released under freedom of information act reveals that the FDA was under orders from the White house to promote GM crops!! It is said in jest that the connections between these companies and the overseeing organizations are almost like a revolving door, Michael Taylor is now back in the FDA – on July 2009 US President Barack Obama appointed former Monsanto lobbyist and attorney Michael R. Taylor as a senior adviser to the USFDA (Food and Drug Administration)(I read this writeup about his appointment on The Daily Green check it out before you make your decision 🙂 )
The FDA’s 1992 Guidance for the GE Industry says “The 1992 policy does not establish special labeling requirements for bio-engineered foods as a class of foods. The policy states that FDA has no basis for concluding that bio-engineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.”
So legally the manufacturers are under no obligation to put a label on GMO’s unless the following hold true –
Under section 201(n), the label of the food must reveal all material facts about the food. Thus:
If a bioengineered food is significantly different from its traditional counterpart such that the common or usual name no longer adequately describes the new food, the name must be changed to describe the difference.
If an issue exists for the food or a constituent of the food regarding how the food is used or consequences of its use, a statement must be made on the label to describe the issue.
If a bioengineered food has a significantly different nutritional property, its label must reflect the difference.
If a new food includes an allergen that consumers would not expect to be present based on the name of the food, the presence of that allergen must be disclosed on the label.
Dr. James Maryanski, Biotechnology Coordinator, in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) testified about Bio-engineered food safety in front of the senate in 1999 reiterated the safety protocols of the US FDA and said this in conclusion “FDA’s 1992 policy statement and our guidance documents make clear that pre-market clearance is required if there is scientific uncertainty about the safety of food derived from bio-engineered plants. The policy also makes clear that labeling will be required if the composition of the genetically modified food differs significantly from what is expected for that food, or if the genetically modified food contains potential allergens.”
STATEMENT EXCEPTIONS ABOUT FOOD USING GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS:
The discussion accompanying each example is intended to provide guidance as to how similar statements can be made without being misleading.
“Genetically engineered” or “This product contains cornmeal that was produced using biotechnology.”
The information that the food was bioengineered is optional and this kind of simple statement is not likely to be misleading. However, focus group data indicate that consumers would prefer label statements that disclose and explain the goal of the technology (why it was used or what it does for/to the food) (Ref. 1). Consumers also expressed some preference for the term “biotechnology” over such terms as “genetic modification” and “genetic engineering” (Ref. 1).
“This product contains high oleic acid soybean oil from soybeans developed using biotechnology to decrease the amount of saturated fat.”
This example includes both required and optional information. As discussed above in the background section, when a food differs from its traditional counterpart such that the common or usual name no longer adequately describes the new food, the name must be changed to describe the difference. Because this soybean oil contains more oleic acid than traditional soybean oil, the term “soybean oil” no longer adequately describes the nature of the food. Under section 403(i) of the act, a phrase like “high oleic acid” would be required to appear as part of the name of the food to describe its basic nature. The statement that the soybeans were developed using biotechnology is optional. So is the statement that the reason for the change in the soybeans was to reduce saturated fat.
“These tomatoes were genetically engineered to improve texture.”
In this example, the change in texture is a difference that may have to be described on the label. If the texture improvement makes a significant difference in the finished product, sections 201(n) and 403(a)(1) of the act would require disclosure of the difference for the consumer. However, the statement must not be misleading. The phrase “to improve texture” could be misleading if the texture difference is not noticeable to the consumer. For example, if a manufacturer wanted to describe a difference in a food that the consumer would not notice when purchasing or consuming the product, the manufacturer should phrase the statements so that the consumer can understand the significance of the difference. If the change in the tomatoes was intended to facilitate processing but did not make a noticeable difference in the processed consumer product, a phrase like “to improve texture for processing” rather than “to improve texture” should be used to ensure that the consumer is not misled. The statement that the tomatoes were genetically engineered is optional.
“Some of our growers plant tomato seeds that were developed through biotechnology to increase crop yield.”
The entire statement in this example is optional information. The fact that there was increased yield does not affect the characteristics of the food and is therefore not necessary on the label to adequately describe the food for the consumer. A phrase like “to increase yield” should only be included where there is substantiation that there is in fact the stated difference.
The above are excerpts from the US FDA’s Guidance for Industry which were non-binding! The complete guidance can be found here
To me it sounds like it basically says that unless something is visibly different from what the food item is purported to be one is not under any obligation to label the food item as a GE or GMO. If it looks like a tomato, tastes like one etc… it should not matter to the consumer what kind of gene has been inserted into it to keep it from over-ripening on the grocers shelves week after week! Don’t we deserve to know what we are consuming? I believe we do…
This will be continued… I seem to be unable to make it concise (like kids say these days “MY BAD 🙂 “)
I know the title sounds dire, if we don’t take action against the changing ways of agriculture the title is exactly where the world will be headed. How can one explain in today’s world a billion plus of our fellow human-beings going hungry or dying of hunger?
Let’s take a trip to India a year back, in the April/June of 2009, 1500 farmers took their own lives in the Indian State of Chhattisgarh. Since 1997 100,000 plus farmers have taken their own lives in India the World’s Largest Democracy. What does that have to do with Seeds of Deception you wonder? It does, because the root cause of the farmer’s suicides is linked intrinsically to the seeds and what it signifies. Before delving into that let me lay out some basis of the story.
In the beginning like all politicians the Indian Government too turned a blind eye to the farmer suicides until a diligent journalist P Sainath put it on the front page along with statistics. As always is the case when things look good on the surface no one wants to hear the bad news; so was the case in India. With the Tech boom there was prosperity and progress all over the urban landscape and India was headed full speed into the 21st century.
Sainath says about the press and its non-interest in this catastrophe “In the early years journalism contributed to “the liberation of the human being”. In contrast India’s press today merely performs “stenography” for big business and the governing elite.” I believe it is true globally, with corporations running Newspapers and TV stations and the bottom line being of most importance, “News” has become synonymous with a media outlet which is looking at maximum viewership only and “creating audiences that have no interest in other human beings or the environment around”.
In press reports with the farmer suicides mostly what one heard about was debt driving them to suicide and I was always wondering why? Is there more debt now than in the past? Or was it just not reported?
Green revolution – The Promise of a Better tomorrow
Growing up in the India of the 80’s when Green Revolution was touted as the way out for the millions of her citizens who lived under the poverty line. In School we wrote essays about how things would change with Green Revolution – the panacea for all their woes; the crops would be disease resistant, drought resistance, higher yielding etc… As students we even believed that the world would make so much food that hunger would be a distant memory by 2000! In India even now close to 40% of her 1.2 Billion people live below the poverty line as per global standards i.e. they make do with less than 1.25$ a day. The planning commission of India puts the percentage at around 28%. After decades of the so called “development”, Indian farmers are taking their own lives in more numbers now than poverty took in the past.
My education on the effects of Green Revolution’s aftermath started pretty late in 2002-2003 when I had a chance to listen to world renowned Eco-activist Vandana Shiva. Green Revolution opened India up to Western ways of farming; Machines, Chemical fertilizers and Hybrid seeds which promised better yields and over all better life styles.
A look at farming in India before the advent of BT and GMO
In India traditionally farmers depended on nature for the yields, they did use fertilizers which were natural mostly. They grew diversity of crops depending on season and rotated crops there by keeping the soil fertile i.e. after a crop of paddy when the rain was less they planted crop which required lesser water like peas and these plants once harvested were burned cut etc and mixed back into to soil to fertilize it for the next crop.
Another staple was the seeds farmers saved after a crop was harvested. They would save enough seed for sowing the next year and that was how they kept their farms running. In India almost 80% of the farmers still save their seeds for the next year and it is also exchanged/ shared between neighbors. In 1998 India opened its seed sector to International Agro Business under the World Bank’s new lending policies.
Farming Changes in India and Farmer Suicides abound!
The 1998 signing of the World Bank Lending Policy signing opened up India’s farms to the global giants in the high yield seed, fertilizer & pesticide field i.e. Monsanto™, Cargill™, ADM™ etc… There were challenges to their entry which delayed the entry of their seeds into the open market until 2002. The main aspect of their high yielding seeds was that they were GMOs which meant seed saving would not work. The farmer would have to buy seeds from the company every year! Another surprise with these new seeds was that they required more water and more chemicals to grow.
One of the major culprits in one of the states which saw a spew of suicides was the BT Cotton from Monsanto™. The main losses in cotton production was due to its susceptibility to about 162 species of insect pests and a number of diseases. Among the insects, cotton bollworms are the most serious pests of cotton in India causing annual losses of at least $300 million. It is estimated that insecticides worth $660 million are used annually on all crops in India of which more than half are used on cotton. Cotton is used to produce cotton seed oil and cotton for fabric.
Picture Courtesy French Agriculture Center for International Development- CIRAD
The farmers had native cotton which was susceptible to the pest Cotton Bollworm (Helicoverpa zea) and Monsanto™’s Bt Cotton was projected as the answer to the farmer’s pest problems. Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis a soil dwelling bacteria commonly used as an alternative to pesticide. What Monsanto™ did was it genetically integrated Bt into the cotton seeds there by making it cheaper for the farmers. The biotech industry had created an unprecedented hype around it. However the experiences in Bt cotton farming completely contradict this gung ho propaganda.
The farmers were told this seed would make cotton farming really profitable i.e. the plants would be resistant to the pink bollworm for up to 9 months, and the farmers brought in to the hype, borrowed money from money lenders and brought the costly seeds. Once planted, the farmers realized that it needed 13% more pesticides and much more water than the native varieties. The farmers already stretched thin by buying the costly seeds end up deeper and deeper in debt each year as they have to buy the seed every year along with pesticides and sometimes even water. The farmer has to pay the company e.g. Monsanto™ or its subsidiaries for the seed every year, and he also has to pay back the debt.
In a couple of years if nature too decides to not cooperate as it is doing right now with changing weather patterns, the poor farmers are left with no options to feed their families or pay off the debts. When the stress gets to be too much many of the farmers in India chose to drink the same pesticide they brought to make their yield better as the way out, leaving behind debt and grieving families. As per last report farmers who farmed BT cotton made the largest percentage of the 25,000 farmers who took their lives.
The video below is a short film on the same topic by Chad Heeter a journalism student at U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism made in 2005 for PBS about the farmer suicides in the Southern state of Andhrapradesh; where 7 farmers were killing themselves every day.
I am not saying stopping GMO’s will save the farmer’s, there are a lot of other steps that need to be taken along with returning to the traditional agrarian way of life incorporating machines and fertilizers, herbicides etc which are helpful and less harmful to the environment on the whole. The government also has to make sure that food which is produced reaches the people who are starving when their crops are destroyed by natural or manmade calamities.
A real Green Revolution has to begin anew as a grass roots movement again from below to keep the coming generations healthy and our environment safe with biodiversity as its main stay. I will write more about what is being done and can be done in my next post.
In 2009 BT cotton in the state of Gujarat started getting attacked by boll worms again! The boll worms had mutated and became resistant to BT! It was the first time Monsanto™ accepted that BT resistance has been found anywhere in the world.
In 2007for the first time, India grew more Bt cotton (3.8 million hectares) than China (3.5 million hectares) and moved up the world ranking by two places to number five in the world of biotech crops, overtaking both China and Paraguay!
What are GMO’s?
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism i.e. Genetic engineering alters the genetic codes of the DNA in the organism by splicing in other genes from other forms of life; i.e. other plant forms, insects, bacteria and even viruses. This creates mutant organisms and dangerously mutating genes, solely for the commercial demands on different forms of produce. The companies who produce / patent these are also the ones which manufacture the pesticides fertilizers etc which are needed to produce maximum yield.
The way I understand it is kind of like how a doctor friend of mine explained the misuse of antibiotics to me. She said in layman’s terms when we skip one doze of antibiotic some bacteria inside us get away and mutate to become resistant to that particular medicine. This also happens with recurring antibiotic use which ultimately produces a new more virulent, antibiotic resistant strain of the bacteria.
Monsanto™ and companies like it patent these genes and seeds after they genetically alter them and once they get into a market they influence the politicians into changing the seed laws in those countries. The GMO seeds have been around since 1996, and the companies which manufacture these seeds have used their persuasion skills and lobbying to get seed acts ratified in many countries including Iraq(2004) world over. What the seed acts do is it restricts the sale of native seeds and makes it impossible for farmers to exchange seeds or do seed saving.
It also will lead to a time in the future when the world food sources will be controlled by these Bio-tech Giants.
A sampling of the GMO use in the US agricultural produce as of 2007 June:
Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%)
Alfalfa, zucchini and yellow squash (a small amount)
Tobacco (Quest® brand)
Some other GMO sources in our daily food chain.
Dairy products from cows injected with rbGH.
Food additives, enzymes, flavorings, and processing agents, including the sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet®) and rennet used to make hard cheeses
Meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals that have eaten GM feed
Honey and bee pollen that may have GM sources of pollen
Contamination or pollination caused by GM seeds or pollen
What are GMO’s? What is rGBH? How do they affect us and the environment? all this and more in the next post 🙂
My Sources for research:
Newspaper accounts and What I have heard and learned along the way from school to now.
Jeffrey M Smith: His writings and research are of utmost importance to anyone who is interested in learning about GMO’s and their impact. The title of my post is also courtesy his website. If there is just one book you will read about GMO’s and their effects please read “Genetic Roulette” By Jeffrey Smith there is an amazon link below.