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GMOs: Ban Them or Label Them?

GMOs: Ban Them or Label Them?
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This post was written by Ronnie Cummins and originally appeared on EcoWatch

Since the controversial introduction in the mid-nineties of genetically engineered (GE) food and crops, and the subsequent fast-tracking of those crops by the federal government—with no independent safety-testing or labeling required—there has been a lively debate among activists, both inside and outside the U.S., about how to drive these unhealthy and environmentally destructive “Frankenfoods” off the market.

Some campaigners have called for an outright ban of GE crops. In fact, several dozen nations, thousands of local governments in the EU and six counties in the U.S. (in California, Washington and Hawaii) have created GMO-free zones by passing bans.

But food labeling alone cannot protect the environment, or non-GMO and organic farmers from GE drift and seed contamination. This is why county and regional bans on GMO cultivation and the creation of regional GMO-free zones are important.

Other activists argue that strict mandatory labeling laws, similar to those in the EU, are all we need in order to rid the world of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Activists in this camp point out that very few products in countries that have mandatory GMO labeling laws contain GMOs, because once companies are required to label GMO ingredients, they reformulate their products to be GMO-free, rather than risk rejection by consumers.

Whos right?

A review of two decades of anti-GMO campaigning in North America and Europe suggests that mandatory labeling and bans, or GMO-free zones, should be seen as complementary, rather than contradictory. And recent news about increased contamination of non-GMO crops by the growing number of USDA-approved GMO crops suggests that if we don’t implement labeling laws and bans sooner rather than later, we may run out of time to preserve organic and non-GMO farmers and their fields.

Bans and Mandatory Labeling Laws: Lessons from the EU

In the EU in the late-1990s, in what was the largest agricultural market in the world, anti-GMO campaigners, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, at first tried to establish a sweeping production and import ban on all GMOs. They were unsuccessful, largely because politicians and bureaucrats argued that an outright ban of GMOs in the EU would violate World Trade Organization agreements and bring on serious economic retaliation from the U.S. government.

Leading consumer, environmental and farm groups pushing for a ban were successful, however, in forcing EU authorities to adopt significant GMO safety-testing regulations. All GMOs, under EU law, are considered “novel foods” and are subject to extensive, case-by-case, science-based food evaluation by European regulatory officials. These regulations, much to the chagrin of Monsanto and the Gene Giants, have kept most GMOs, with the exception of animal feeds, out of the country.

EU regulations also permit member nations to establish GMO-free zones. As of 2012 there are 169 regions and 4,713 municipalities that have declared themselves GMO-free zones in the EU. In addition to these GMO-free zones in the EU, at least 26 nations, including Switzerland, Australia, Austria, China, India, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Mexico and Russia have banned GMOs entirely. Significant labeling and safety-testing procedures on GMOs have been put in place in approximately 60 countries.

Mandatory Labeling in the EU: The Crucial Blow to GMOs

Although EU grassroots forces failed to gain a continent-wide ban on the cultivation or import of GMOs, they were successful in pushing authorities to impose mandatory labeling of all genetically engineered foods, feeds and food ingredients in 1997. This, combined with strict pre-market safety-testing regulations, has marginalized or eliminated GMOs throughout the EU.

EU foods derived from animals raised on GMO feed, however—meat, eggs and dairy products—do not have to be labeled in the EU. As a consequence, billions of dollars of GMO-tainted animal feeds, including corn, soybeans and canola, continue to be imported every year into the EU from the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Argentina. EU activists, in Germany and elsewhere, have now begun campaigning to eliminate this strategic loophole.

As the EU’s GMO food labeling law came into effect in 1997-98, activists switched gears, successfully pressuring many large supermarket chains, including Carrefour, Co-Op, Tesco, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, and food manufacturers, including Unilever and Nestlé, to pledge to remain GMO-free. Feeling the heat from grassroots campaigners and realizing that mandatory GMO labeling would be the “kiss of death” for their brand-name products and their reputations, every major EU supermarket, food manufacturing and restaurant chain, including U.S.-based multinationals such as General Mills, Kellogg’s, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Walmart, eliminated GMOs from their supply chains. As a consequence almost no GMO-derived foods, with the exception of meat and animal products, have been sold in EU retail stores or restaurants from 1997 until now.

With no real market for GMOs, EU farmers have refused to grow them. EU activists point out that if meat, eggs and dairy products derived from animals fed GMO grains had to be labeled, there would be no GMOs in Europe. Period.

Frankenfoods Fight Heats Up in the U.S.

In the U.S., the battle against GE foods and crops has been markedly more difficult. Since 1994, government regulatory agencies have refused to require labels on GMOs, or to require independent safety testing beyond the obviously biased research carried out by Monsanto and other genetic engineering companies themselves.

Despite government and industry opposition, and limited funding, a growing number of pro-organic and anti-GMO campaigners carried out a variety of public education, marketplace pressure and boycotts between 1994 and 2012 designed to either ban or label GMOs. Although GMO labeling bills, which according to numerous polls are supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans, were introduced in Congress over and over again during the past two decades, none have gathered more than nominal support from lawmakers And media coverage, at least until the California GMO labeling ballot initiative in 2012 (Proposition 37) and the Washington State ballot initiative in 2013 (I-522), has been generally sparse, with reporters routinely spouting industry propaganda that GMOs are safe, environmentally sustainable and necessary to feed a growing global population.

But the tide is beginning to turn. More farmers are rejecting GMO seeds, more consumers are demanding non-GMO foods, or at the least, labels on GMO foods. And the media is beginning to give the anti-GMO movement if not its fair share, at least substantially more ink than we’ve seen in decades.

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Photo Credit: EcoWatch

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680 comments

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10:15AM PDT on Jun 7, 2014

In order to Ban GMO,we must Ban Monsanto from making this crap.This is where our problems stem from.(O_O)

7:20PM PDT on Apr 29, 2014

Common sense tells me that the purpose for genetic modification is far from noble but solely for profit, and a means of engineering the entire agricultural system to guarantee and multiply that profit. I’ve got nothing against profit, but when it is combined with power our health, lives and rights mean nothing.

7:17PM PDT on Apr 29, 2014

In 1998 the recommended rate was .75 lb A.I. per acre, so Kyle’s statement proves a 33% increase. Plus a third application is now recommended: that’s a total of 300 lbs per acre - 2 crops per year equal 600 lbs per acre. Some countries may use more. Glyphosate sequestered in plant material is protected from degrading for up to 140 days, so the next plant will uptake that as well as the pre-emergent, post-emergent and pre-harvest desiccation applications.

The formulations contain surfactants and adjutants, many of which are of high toxicity. Monsanto won’t allow its “secret recipes” to be divulged, so they can’t be tested.

Weeds are already showing resistance, so many farmers, perhaps in ignorance, apply more glyphosate formulations in heavier quantities until they are forced to use another herbicide AS WELL to deal with them. It’s a chemical cocktail, served by a company who wants total sovereignty over the entire world’s agriculture, who has a reputation of insisting its products are “perfectly safe” until they are found to cause death, deformity and illness. I am not one for hysteria and I despise propaganda, but common sense tells me ingesting “low toxicity” herbicides combined with ‘highly toxic’ chemicals and herbicides is not a sensible thing to do.

1:59AM PDT on Apr 27, 2014

Here, there has been no increased rate use of Glyphosate per acre than in 1998. It remains at 1 pound A.I. per acre per application, the max is 2 applications per year in RR crops. The European Commission's review of the data conducted in 2002 concluded that there was equivocal evidence of a relationship between glyphosate exposure during pregnancy and cardiovascular malformations; however, a review published in 2013 found that the evidence "fails to support a potential risk for increased cardiovascular defects as a result of glyphosate exposure during pregnancy. It is also listed as non toxic to skin contact. Glyphosate does not bioaccumulate in animals; it is excreted in urine and feces. It breaks down variably quickly depending on the particular environment.

9:13AM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/04/15/glyphosate-health-effects.aspx?e_cid=20140415Z1_DNL_art_2&utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art2&utm_campaign=20140415Z1&et_cid=DM44441&et_rid=488586217

8:55AM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

Preferably ban them, until research studies can be done. And, I mean research studies that aren't paid for by the companies that make the GMO's.

8:54AM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

I'd say at least label them.

4:01AM PDT on Apr 19, 2014

Kyle, it was declared by the FAO that under normal conditions there should be no more than 20 mg/kg glyphosate residue in soybeans (which is an unusually high level for any residue level). If the plants didn’t uptake glyphosate, there would be 0.1 mgs/kg or less. Unfortunately, because the weeds have grown resistant, more herbicide is required, and desiccating crops prior to harvesting has become a common practice, so residues are now up to 100 mg/kg: 5 x higher than the MRL. Other adjutants, such as Polyethoxylated tallow amine, are of higher toxicity than glyphosate: these are not being adequately monitored.

Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac are bacteria-sourced insecticidal proteins expressed in transgenic crops: they have nothing to do with systemic uptake of glyphosate resulting in residues in food and breast milk. Was this a deflection or a misunderstanding on your part?

8:38PM PDT on Apr 18, 2014

any traces of glyphosate ingested by the human body is inconclusive since it is rapidly broken down by environmental conditions and therefore not found within any food product. The technical reason of it is the Cry1Ab protein. However, the paper does not discuss the safety implications of finding Cry1Ab in the human body and the authors make no mention of any abnormalities in either the subjects or, in the case of those who were pregnant at the time of the study, the subsequent process of birth or the health of the mothers and babies postpartum.
The Cry1Ab protein, whether ingested via Btk-sprayed conventional or organic crops or GM corn products containing the protein, is safe for human consumption at the levels likely to be found in these sources.
http://www.fda.gov/food/foodscienceresearch/biotechnology/submissions/ucm314244.htm

4:29AM PDT on Apr 18, 2014

All that article proved, Barbara, is that some academics still don’t understand that arrogance and pomposity is not a sign of superiority.

They rejected the finding because - horror of horrors - it was commissioned by a group of ordinary people. Whether these people were pro-GMO or anti-GMO, they presented the breast milk to a professional microbial and biochemical laboratory to be analyzed by qualified scientists. The test was not about whether it causes harm or not: it was only to see if glyphosate was present. It was, in 3 of the 10 samples.

The lab implicitly stated “The initial testing…is not meant to be a full scientific study. Instead it was set up to inspire and initiate full peer-reviewed scientific studies on glyphosate, by regulatory bodies and independent scientists worldwide.” I think this is very responsible and I hope it does lead to full, conclusive studies - and soon.

The women who initiated the test are concerned.
The people who did the test were qualified scientists.
Glyphosate was found in the breast milk.
No claims were made that it was causing harm, only that it was found and how much.

I note your silence on the potential effect of glyphosate on the shikimate pathway of biosynthesis in gut flora.

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