Friday, October 21, 2011
Anti-GMO protests heat up this fall
By Monica Eng
October 21, 2011
While last winter brought an unprecedented wave of genetically modified crop approvals from the U.S. government, this fall has brought an unprecedented wave of protests aimed at getting genetically modified foods labeled in the U.S.
Last weekend Right2Know marchers finished up their trek from New York to the White House, where they rallied for mandatory labeling of GMOs in food.
A couple of weeks ago Nature’s Path released its new infographic on GMOs in American food. And before that, Stonyfield Farms CEO Gary Hirshberg launched the broad-based “Just Label It” campaign petitioning the FDA to require GMO labeling similar to provisions in Europe, Japan and elsewhere.
October also happens to be national Non-GMO Awareness month, a designation started last year by the Non-GMO Project, which recently started offering a voluntary, non-GMO seal for products that it verifies to be free of GMOs.
But rather than a voluntary process, many activists want the FDA to require manufacturers to state whether their products contain GMOs. They would also like the FDA to establish a specific testing regimen aimed at ensuring that GMO foods are safe to eat before they are released on the market.
While the FDA does not require such safety tests, manufacturers can engage with the FDA in voluntary consultations before releasing their products. “FDA believes that its consultation process is working well and protective of the public health,” a spokeswoman for the agency wrote to the Tribune.
GMO critics are highly skeptical of the FDA’s efforts, however, in part because its food safety division is led by Michael Taylor, a former executive for Monsanto, one of the biggest GMO manufacturers in the world.
Critics also cite a report published earlier this year in Environmental Sciences Europe examining 19 studies on GMOs fed to mammals. It stated that current, “90-day-long tests are insufficient to evaluate chronic toxicity, and the signs highlighted in the kidneys and livers could be the onset of chronic diseases. However, no minimal length for the tests is yet obligatory for any of the GMOs cultivated on a large scale, and this is socially unacceptable in terms of consumer health protection.”
Labeling opponents say labels would needlessly alarm consumers and cause sales of those food products to drop. Hirshberg shows little sympathy:
“It’s not the job of the American government to reject a policy because it will hurt the bottom line of six very profitable companies,” said the Stonyfield CEO, whose organic products are by definition free of GMOs. “We have to ask ourselves what’s in the best interest of us all. One thing I hope will come from this campaign is that every person running for Congress may have to go on the record about their stance on GMO labeling. The only way you can be against this is if you believe consumers don’t deserve the right to know.”
Right2Know March coordinator Adam Eidinger says his group is disappointed in the White House’s lack of action on the issue, noting that as a presidential candidate, Barack Obama said he would “let folks know whether their food has been genetically modified.”
In an email to the Tribune, Eidinger said his group would focus next on a labeling proposition in California. “If [Obama] doesn’t keep his promise, his re-election effort might as well say goodbye to thousands of food democracy activists we expect to mobilize in California who will be solely focused on getting a GMO labeling proposition passed.”
GMOs are already a staple of the American diet. They a part of about 80 percent of all American processed foods, about 90 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. and about 80 percent of U.S. corn. Attempts to get them labeled here are not new. So why the sudden surge of protests?
“With the approval of GMO alfalfa and impending planting of GMO sweet corn we are getting extremely close to production for direct human consumption,” Hirshberg said. “Previously, most genetically engineered crops were used for animal feed or used to make food ingredients. But now people will be eating them directly.”
The FDA has 180 days to respond to the “Just Label It” petition, and the Right2Know folks vow to make labeling of GMOs an issue in the upcoming presidential election. Most polls show that when asked specifically about GMO labeling, the vast majority of Americans favor it.
What do you think?