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Will the Agency Protect Consumers or the Profits of a Few Corporations

The FDA and Frankenfoods

by JEFF DEASY

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent enforcement letters warning food makers that they cannot label their products as free of genetically modified or genetically engineered ingredients.

The letters were sent as a heated debate is taking place over whether the agency should approve a genetically engineered (GE) salmon that grows at twice the rate of salmon in the wild.

Sarah Alexander of the nonprofit Food & Water Watch says, “The FDA has a flawed process for approving these GE salmon and unfortunately for us, the process isn’t focused on what happens to people who eat genetically engineered animals. If the FDA moves forward, these salmon would be the first GE animals approved for human consumption.”

An article in the Washington Post quotes Marion Nestle, a professor in the Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health Department at New York University. She said, “The public wants to know and the public has a right to know. I think the agency has discretion, but it’s under enormous political pressure to approve [the salmon] without labeling.”

The nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists states on its web site:

So far, scientists have identified a number of ways in which genetically engineered organisms could potentially adversely impact both human health and the environment…In addition to posing risks of harm that we can envision and attempt to assess, genetic engineering may also pose risks that we simply do not know enough to identify.

Shades of the rBGH Milk Controversy

The FDA previously warned companies that they could not label products as hormone free. Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc., one of the first companies to label its ice cream as free of the synthetic hormone rBGH, joined a national campaign that included Stonyfield Farm and Organic Valley to block that effort.

According to the ice cream maker’s web site, “We’re still working to oppose the use of rBGH, a genetically engineered hormone given to cows to increase their milk production. We believe rBGH is an unnecessary technology that causes increased health risks to cows.”

The Concern About rBGH Dangers is International

Many countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, and the European Union have banned rBGH due to health risks. According to Jeffrey M. Smith, the author of “Seeds of Deception” and “Genetic Roulette”, milk from cows given rBGH have much higher levels of IGF-1, a hormone considered to be a high risk factor for breast, prostate, colon, lung, and other cancers. The milk also has a lower nutritional value, leads to increased use of antibiotics, and more pus from infected udders.

Mr. Smith cites a statement from Fredrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, former Vice President of the Agriculture Committee of the European Commission, “We feel fairly confident in being able to demonstrate that the safety of European citizens who consume [rBGH] products cannot be guaranteed.”

GE Labeled Food Unlikely to Appeal to Consumers

Many believe the biotechnology industry does not want genetically engineered food labeled as such because consumers do not want to buy it. There doesn’t seem to be a single company that has voluntarily labeled its products as genetically engineered.

Among the recent enforcement letters, one company was told a label that included a red circle with a line through it and the words “GMO,” implied that there was something wrong with genetically engineered food and could not be used.

Many people are unaware that they are regularly consuming GE foods because they are not labeled. As Elise Pearlstein, producer of the Oscar nominated film Food Inc. has said, “It’s outrageous that genetically modified foods don’t need to be labeled…Whatever your position, you should have the right to make informed choices, and we don’t.”

GE Foods Are Not the Answer to World Hunger

As for the claim that GM foods are needed to feed a hungry world, Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist in the Union of Concerned Scientists Food and Environment Program has concluded “…that GE (genetic engineering) has done little to increase overall crop yields.” And a major study conducted at the University of Kansas has found that the controversial technology actually reduces crop yields.

In May of 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called on “Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community, and the public to avoid GM (genetically modified) foods when possible and provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks.”

JEFF DEASY is found of American Feast.