Why label genetically engineered foods?
November 15, 2012
Proposition 37, the initiative to label genetically engineered foods, was discussed in an Oct. 17 article in The Union.
What was missing from the discussion was a consideration of the health implications of genetically modified (GM) food.
To begin to grasp this issue, one must start by understanding that when foods are genetically altered, it is always for commercial purposes, never for health benefits.
Unlike intra-species hybridization that has been done for hundreds of years, the process of genetic engineering involves swapping pieces of DNA between species in a way that nature could never do.
So, for example, spider genes have been injected into goats so that their milk will produce spider-web proteins that can be used to make bullet-proof vests.
Similarly, DNA from an insect-toxic bacterium (B. thuringiensis) has been injected into corn and soybeans to make them resistant to insects.
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It is assumed by most of the public that if this level of scientific manipulation has reached our food supply, the techniques must have been checked out by the FDA, which, after all, is in charge of the safety of our food.
Indeed, the FDA released its policy on GM foods in 1992, under the supervision of Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor, former VP of Monsanto (one of many examples of the revolving door between the AgriChemical business and the FDA).
Although GM ingredients are considered food additives, they were allowed an exception to the requirement for the usual safety studies because they were declared "GRAS" (generally regarded as safe).
But when documents surfaced in 1998, "internal memos showed that the overwhelming consensus among the agency scientists was that GM crops can have unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects."
"Various departments even spelled these out in detail, listing potential allergies, toxins, nutritional effects, and new diseases. …
"The scientists' concerns were not only ignored, their very existence was denied.
"The final policy contained the statement, '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.'
"On the basis of this deceptive statement, the FDA did not require the testing normally necessary for a new food additive." (Jeffrey Smith, Genetic Roulette).
To date, there are no good, long-term controlled feeding studies on the effects of GM foods in humans.
However, there are enough disturbing animal observations showing organ dysfunction and failure, birth defects, growth failure and tumors associated with GM foods that further study is clearly warranted.
However, when scientists have reported this data, they have often been ostracized, refused tenure or otherwise silenced.
The AgriChemical business makes many claims about the advantages of its GM seeds, but the most compelling is that without these crops, the hungry world cannot be fed.
This myth leads us away from the real truth: there exists right now 1 1/2 times more food than is needed to feed the whole world, about 2,800 Kcal per human; the problems include waste, maldistribution, greed and apathy but not scarcity.
Despite what I feel are strong arguments for a moratorium on GM foods, Prop. 37 does not call for a ban.
It asks only that foods be labeled so that those who wish to avoid them be allowed to do so.
Fifty countries, including all those in the E.U. and Japan, already have laws mandating disclosure. Please join me in allowing a choice for health by voting yes on 37.
Christine Newsom is a retired physician who practiced internal medicine in Nevada County for 30 years and lives in Nevada City.