An urgent case for GMO labeling

GMO labeling: An urgent case for state action on food transparency
Prepared by Martin Dagoberto for Citizens for GMO labeling
November 2013
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In recent months, the GMO labeling issue has seen unprecedented attention across the United States. In June of 2013, Connecticut and Maine passed legislation requiring the labeling of genetically engineered ingredients, both contingent upon other states passing similar legislation before they take effect. This November, voters in Washington will decide if theirs will be the next state. GMO labeling bills have been introduced in more than half the United States, and recent polls by major news organizations consistently show that more than 90% of Americans want to know if their food is genetically engineered [1]. In response, chemical manufacturers and junk food companies, benefiting from the current lack of transparency and information in the food market, have been spending millions of dollars to keep people in the dark about what they’re eating. State legislators now have the opportunity to honor the will of the people and protect the democracy of our common food supply.  Unless action is taken soon by a critical mass of states, the basic human right of food choice may be rendered obsolete.
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The time is NOW for states to pass GMO labeling.
Pople have a right to know, and they NEED to know, 
before the choice is obsolete.
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People want to opt-out of the experiment.
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Americans are already eating their weight and more in genetically engineered (GE/GMO) foods every year, and with the introduction of new crops, that amount is set to increase [2].  The U.S. government does not perform or require independent safety testing of new genetically engineered crops [3], and the products are protected by patents, making independent research nearly impossible [4]. There is a growing body of evidence that the consumption of GMOs is linked to such major conditions as auto immune diseases, digestive disorders, infertility and cancer, and merits further research [5].  In the mean time, many Americans want to opt out of eating GMOs, for fear that they will ultimately prove to pose serious health risks. Without adequate labeling, consumers can not easily make that choice, and without proper market forces (via labeling), the food supply will soon be predominately GMO.
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Loosened regulations are now allowing for increased chemical residues.
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The Environmental Protection Agency, at the behest of industry groups, has recently increased the threshold for tolerable residues of the herbicide glyphosate in our food [6].  Glyphosate use has increased dramatically with the growth of GMO crops, which has resulted in an increase of glyphosate in Americans’ food supply [7]. Mounting evidence links glyphosate (active ingredient in Roundup) to a host of major health problems, including the types of human birth defects reported in GM soy-growing areas of South America [8]. Without adequate regulation of glyphosate, we must rely on market forces to mitigate impacts.  The people can decide if they want to support GMOs and the increasing application of these associated chemicals.
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Food sensitivities are on the rise among children. Parents need to know.
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Parents trying to keep their sensitive kids healthy need to know if the food their children are eating contains potential allergens, including GMOs. Parents want to know if their children are being fed school lunches with GMO ingredients, and without labeling, lunchroom staff can not respond to parents’ concerns. There are multiple converging lines of evidence which suggest that GMOs may be contributing to observed increases in food allergies [9], and the FDA’s own scientists have expressed concerns about potential new allergens and toxins [10].
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While the debates about the benefits and risks of GMO crops continue, an entire generation is growing up consuming them.  We should be able to choose whether we want to participate in this experiment with our children.  Without labeling, we have no choice.
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Protect the free market in order to prevent a global monopoly of the food and seed supply.
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In order to preserve the basic human right of a democratic food supply, we need a transparent and truly free market.  GMO labeling will allow consumers to decide if they   want to support the arguably reckless practices of particular agricultural interests, some of which are summarized below. Labeling is expected to increase market demands for non-GMO agriculture. However, the ability of farmers to continue growing conventional crops is increasingly threatened by the aggressive practices of GMO promoters. GMO labeling is one immediate step toward a more informed, transparent and functional free market.
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Owning the worlds’ seed supply: 82% privatized
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Biotech giants have strategically used intellectual property laws to commodify the worlds’ seeds, maximizing profits by eliminating farmers’ rights (ie, to save seeds), reducing choices, and raising prices unencumbered. The proprietary seed market now accounts for 82% of the commercial seed market worldwide [11].
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Genetic modification is, first and foremost, a strategy to gain intellectual property rights over our common food supply and genetic heritage.
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Dozens of new GMO crops in the pipeline
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In order to firmly establish a foothold on the U.S. agricultural system, Big Biotech started with the major commodity crops.  The latest USDA data shows that 95 percent of the sugar beets, 93 percent of the soybeans and 88 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered [12].
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The basic right-to-know issue of GMO labeling is only going to become more important in the future, because consumption of genetically engineered food is expected to grow substantially.
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More than 30 new GMO crops are currently being tested in field trials, including:
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apples, barley, bell peppers, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cherries, chili peppers, coffe, cranberries, cucumber, flax, grapefruit, kiwi, lentils, lettuce, melons, mustard, oats, olives, onions, peanuts, pears, peas, persimmons, pineapple, popcorn, radishes, strawberries, sugar cane, sunflower, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, walnuts and watercress.
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No labeling means no tracking of health impacts of new GMO crops.
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Proponents of GMO agriculture point out that Americans have been eating GMOs for nearly 20 years with no ill effects attributed to their consumption. Because GMOs are not labeled or tracked in the U.S., they might be causing acute or chronic effects, but without labeling scientists and public health officials are unable to recognize linkages between GMO food intake and the many unexplained health problems facing Americans today     (even if they were looking for such linkages). According to internal memos released as the result of a lawsuit, the FDA’s own scientists agreed that genetic engineering created new risks, including the possible introduction of new toxins and allergens [13]. FDA scientists advocated for labeling and tracking so that possible impacts on public health could be monitored. These concerns, however, were suppressed by FDA administrators [14].
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Reflect the true costs and risks of GMO agriculture and let the market decide.
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GMOs can not be recalled.
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GMOs are self-replicating and once released into the environment, cannot be contained.  In addition to cross-pollination, it is likely that transgenic sequences can “jump” out of target species and into unrelated species in the environment [15].
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Native biodiversity is threatened.
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The health and vitality of modern domesticated agricultural crops relies on access to the genetic diversity of their wilder cousins. GMO corn has already been shown to have contaminated the native seed stock in Mexico [16].  The continued loss of similar sources of biodiversity threatens the integrity of the global food supply.
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GMO agriculture directly threatens non-GMO ag.
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If GMO crops continue to increase in prevalence, non-GMO agriculture may soon be impossible. With government policies favoring industrial GMO agriculture, these         problems are severely compounded. The wind, insects, birds and agricultural practices can inadvertently cause cross-pollination between GMO crops, their organic counterparts and related plant species [17]. Unlabeled seeds may also inadvertently  contaminate non-GMO seeds. This puts organic farms at risk of losing their organic status and conventional farmers at risk of losing sales to countries that don’t allow imports of GMO foods.
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Chemical use has increased with GMO agriculture.
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Herbicide-resistant crop technology has led to a 527 million pound increase in herbicide use in the US between 1996 and 2011 [18]. The widespread use of GMO crops and         associated chemicals is responsible for the emergence of “super weeds” and “super bugs” which can only be killed with ever more toxic poisons, like 2,4-D (a major ingredient in Agent Orange) [19].  The escalation of herbicide use comes at the expense of soil, plant and human health and undermines efforts toward sustainable agriculture. These increases are, however, favored by the chemical manufacturers.
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Pass effective food labeling legislation while such legislation is still possible.          
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 “Free trade” agreements may ban GMO labeling
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Aggressive international agreements now being secretly negotiated by government officials and their corporate advisors, known as the “Trans-Pacific Partnership,” or “TPP”,  may undermine the ability of governments to take legal action to protect public health and the environment. While details of the proposed agreement remain secret to the public and members of Congress, sources indicate that provisions include a ban on GMO labeling [20].
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Federal agencies have demonstrated unwavering support for GMO Agriculture; It’s up to the states
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Biotech interests have become deeply entrenched within the federal government.  Former Monsanto employees currently serve as the Deputy Commissioner of Food Safety at the FDA and as a Justice of the Supreme Court. As evidenced by diplomatic cables released through WikiLeaks, the U.S. State Department has, for years, been aggressively promoting biotech agriculture and working against regulation and labeling of GMO crops around the world [21]. GMO labeling is now being initiated by the states, who are setting the standard for labeling laws before the federal government initiates watered down legislation which may preempt more effective state-level standards and/or delay implementation [22].
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States have an opportunity to lead on this trend and benefit economically from GMO labeling.
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We are reaching a critical mass
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◊             National polls by major news outlets consistently show that more than 90% of Americans want to know if their food is genetically engineered [23].
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◊          In 2013, nearly half of all U.S. states introduced bills requiring GMO labeling [24].
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◊         Major food companies are beginning to take the lead on transparency, with Ben & Jerry’s committing to labeling all their ice-cream by 2014 [25]. In March 2013 Chipotle became the first U.S. company to disclose which of its menu items contained GMO ingredients [26] and in September 2013, Suja Juices became the first U.S. food producer to donate a proportion of its nationwide sales directly to state campaigns [27].
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State legislators have a choice to be proactive by sending a strong message to their constituents that they hear them and work for them.  Alternatively,  legislators can pass GMO labeling after the pressure has become so great that they have no choice.
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Support local businesses;
Capitalize on rising consumer demand.
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According to a recent New York Times article, consumer demand for non-GMO ingredients is increasing so dramatically that “food companies big and small are struggling to replace genetically modified ingredients with conventional ones” [28].  GMO labeling will help local agriculture respond by limiting cross-contamination. Currently, farmers wanting to avoid feeding GMO ingredients to their farm animals have no reliable way of identifying GMO ingredients in commercially available feed. Labeling will also increase demand for non-GMO products, creating additional markets for local farmers. Further, GMO labeling will better enable local restaurants to meet increasing consumer demand for non-GMO  menu items.  Consumers want to opt out of the GMO food experiment, and labeling will help the market respond.
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The solution:  A free market and an informed populace.
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We need a free market which is democratic and transparent, so that consumers (via market pressures), can decide if they want to choose the environmental and health risks associated with GMO crops. Chemical manufacturers and junk food companies have spent countless millions to delay and defeat efforts to regulate or label GMOs, so that they can first establish a monopoly on the market (rendering regulation, labeling and the freedom of choice obsolete). These corporate interests are now channeling funds through the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) in an attempt to defeat state-level labeling initiatives. (The GMA is currently the target of a lawsuit by the Washington State Attorney General’s office for violating campaign finance laws [29].)  By demanding GMO labeling and a free market, citizens across the United States are claiming their freedom to chose whether or not they want GMO food. Until there is labeling, the market cannot work, save for the few very powerful companies which benefit from secrecy and lack of transparency.
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About the author: Martin Dagoberto is a co-founder of MA Right to Know GMOs and Citizens for GMO Labeling. Martin got a degree in Biotechnology from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and has been a community organizer since.
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References       
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1.  “U.S. Polls on GE Food         Labeling.” Center for Food Safety, n.d.
2.  “Americans Eat Their Weight In Genetically Engineered Food.” Environmental Working Group, Oct 14, 2012.
3.  “Questions & Answers on Food from Genetically Engineered Plants.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, April 7, 2013.
4.  “Do Seed Companies Control GM Crop Research?” Scientific American, Aug. 13, 2009.
5.   Antoniou, Michael, Claire Robinson and John Fagan.  GMO Myths and Truths : An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of         genetically modified crops. London: Earth Open Source, 2012.                 earthopensource.org.
67.  Sesana, Laura. “EPA raises levels of glyphosate residue allowed in food.” The Washington Times, July 5, 2013.
8.  Paganelly, Alejandra, et. al. “Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Produce Teratogenic Effects on Vertebrate linkeds by Impairing Retinoic Acid Signaling.” Chem. Res. Toxicol. 23.10 (2010) 1586–1595. ACS Publications.
9.  Smith, Jeffrey. “Genetically Engineered Foods May Cause Rising Food Allergies—Genetically Engineered Soybeans.” Institute for Responsible Technology, May    2007.
10. Roseboro, Ken. “FDA ignored own scientists’ warnings about GM foods.” Non-GMO Report, Oct. 1, 2011.
11. “The world’s top 10 seed companies: who owns Nature?” GMWatch, n.d.
12.  “Americans Eat Their Weight In Genetically Engineered Food.”  Environmental Working Group, Oct 14, 2012.
13, 14. Roseboro, Ken. “FDA ignored own scientists’ warnings about GM foods.” Non-GMO Report, Oct. 1, 2011.
15. How, Mae-Wan and Joe Cummins. “Horizontal Gene Transfer from GMOs Does Happen.” Institute of Science in Society, Oct. 3, 2008.
16. Quist, D., Ignacio Chapela. “Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico” Nature. (2001) 541-523. NCBI.
17. Antoniou, Michael, Claire Robinson and John Fagan.  GMO Myths and Truths : An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops. London: Earth Open Source, 2012. earthopensource.org.
18. Benbrook, Charles. “Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. – the first sixteen years.” Env. Sci. Eu. 24.24 (2012).
19.  Gillam, Carey. “Pesticide use ramping up as GMO crop technology backfires: study.” Reuters, Oct. 1, 2012.
20.  Chicherio, Barbara.  “Trans-Pacific Partnership and Monsanto.” Nation of Change, June 24, 2013.
21. “Biotech Ambassadors: How the U.S. State Department Promotes the Seed Industry’s Global Agenda.” Food & Water Watch, May, 2013.
22. Simon, Michele. “Will a Federal  Compromise on GMO Labeling Trump State Law, Forever?” Huffington Post, Feb. 6, 2013.
23. “U.S. Polls on GE Food Labeling.” Center for Food Safety, n.d.  Accessed Oct 1, 2013
24. “State Labeling Initiatives” Center for Food Safety, n.d. Accessed Oct 1, 2013
25. “Ben and Jerry’s Position on Genetically Modified Organisms.” benjerrys.com, Accessed Oct. 1, 2013
26. “Chipotle starts labeling GMO ingredients on website menu.” Huffington Post, June 19, 2013
27.  “New smoothies support GMO labeling efforts.” NewHope360, Sept. 17, 2013
28.  Strom, Stephanie. “Seeking Food Ingredients That Aren’t Gene Altered.” New York Times,  May 26, 2013.
29. “Grocers’ lobby faces lawsuit over donors.” New York Times, October 17, 2013.