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 US FDA (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 🙂 “)
Genetic Roulette by Jeffrey M Smith
Some abbreviations I use commonly in the post
GM -Genetically Modified (Also called GE for Genetically Engineered)
GMO- Genetically Modified Organism