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If GMO Labeling Is a Con, Then Con Me, Please

Did everyone see the article on Gawker last week proclaiming that organizations demanding mandatory labelling on foods containing GMO’s is simply a con to get consumers to purchase more organic foods? (Like that would be a bad thing…)

 

You know, I always try to be nice and to take the high road, meet people where they are and not judge. But GMO proponents just kill me with their slimy rhetoric.

 

According to Kavin Senapathy a freelance writer and self-proclaimed ‘debunker of unscientific media misinformation,’ we are the victims of a huge long con to grow the organic industry…you know, organics, those insidious farmers, manufacturers, foods and products that threaten to bring the planet back into some semblance of balance?

 

A writer for the Genetic Literacy Project, Ms. Senapathy claims no bias and says she is ‘not a shill’ for the biotech industry. Closer scrutiny of this association should raise our suspicions. The Genetic Literacy Project is part of The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a private, not-for-profit conservative think tank. So what? Well, the Koch brothers are key funders (yes, those Koch brothers, the ones who are working with Monsanto to keep GMO labeling from being legislated); the AEI has defended big tobacco and tries to cast doubt on climate change. It seems money that’s funding the anti-labeling laws also funds the AEI. So while Ms. Senapathy may not be receiving direct payment from the bio-tech industry, the waters are a bit murky, I’d say.

 

Let me connect the dots more directly for you. Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas has proposed this legislation called the ‘Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014.’ Pompeo, the single largest recipient of campaign funds from the Koch Brothers in 2010, said this proposed bill "prevents a mishmash of labeling standards" and "would protect consumers by eliminating confusion and advancing food safety." Do you see my concern?

 

But okay, let’s give the author of this piece the benefit of the doubt.

 

Ms. Senapathy tells us that GMO labeling is neither informative nor relevant to us as consumers; that labels need only reflect actual ingredients, not the methods employed to produce the ingredients. She goes on to state that farmers have been genetically modifying foods for centuries and that much of the food we eat today would be unrecognizable to us had farmers not used this method.

 

That sounds great, except it’s not exactly accurate. What farmers have done for centuries and continue to do is create variations on species through hybridization. Hybrid, a term you see often in seed catalogs or at farms refers to plant varieties developed through a specific, controlled cross of two parent plants. Usually, the parents are naturally compatible varieties within the same species. This hybridization, or the crossing of compatible varieties, happens naturally in the wild. Plant breeders and farmers delicately  steer the process to create a great outcome. It’s hardly the same as genetic modification as it is done in labs today, which involves the manipulation of DNA and RNA in often unrelated species to create…well, who knows what?

 

She states that the World Health Organization (WHO) says GMO’s are safe for human consumption. What the WHO actually says on their website is that “Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism. Currently available GM foods stem mostly from plants, but in the future foods derived from GM microorganisms or GM animals are likely to be introduced on the market. Most existing genetically modified crops have been developed to improve yield, through the introduction of resistance to plant diseases or of increased tolerance of herbicides.

 

In the future, genetic modification could be aimed at altering the nutrient content of food, reducing its allergenic potential, or improving the efficiency of food production systems. All GM foods should be assessed before being allowed on the market. FAO/WHO Codex guidelines exist for risk analysis of GM food.“

 

Further, the WHO recently stated that the glyphosate in Round Up Ready crops likely could cause cancer in humans and that extensive study (not by the biotech industry) was needed before these foods could be declared safe.

 

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

 

Ms. Senapathy also refers to the consumers’ right to know as ‘subterfuge,’ a rather strong term. She says, “The acronym ’GMO’ tends to conjure images of Frankenfoods and worse. Fear of the unknown is only natural. Add a pervasive public distrust of scientists and the thinking that corporate entities puppeteer the biotech industry, and fear is almost inevitable.” Corporate entities DO puppeteer the bio-tech industry. The implication here is that we consumers don’t understand science and have no brain capacity for understanding what is in our food and so we should be kept blissfully unaware.

 

She takes her silliness into the realm of the absurd with this analogy: “There are plenty of organisms that have been further genetically modified in relatively recent history, but aren’t considered GMOs. Why not? Simply because breeders created them via pre-molecular techniques. Transgenic “GMO” varieties are made with precision manipulations of their DNA sequences, while so-called non-GMO foods like those pictured were modified into their modern counterparts with old-school methodology (and not just selective breeding). Think of a granite sculpture created with a hammer and chisel over several weeks, versus one created with a programmed laser much more quickly. Both are composed of the same material. The composition of granite doesn’t change based on how it was shaped.”

 

Seriously?

 

She waxes rhapsodic about seedless watermelons and GMO pears and grapefruit as though a lab has improved on nature’s perfection in ways that only man could have created. Such hubris!

 

Ms. Senapathy continues to add insult to injury. “Scientists choose a desirable trait and decide whether genetic engineering is the best way to achieve it. If the answer is yes, they alter a minuscule fraction of the genome to achieve the preferred trait. And there isn’t just one technique by which this is achieved."

 

Take the recently U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved Simplot “Innate” potato, (yet to hit the market). Using a technique borrowed from nature called RNA interference, scientists “turned off” genes that produce proteins that cause black spotting from bruising, enabling a larger usable yield, and making potato farming more profitable and less wasteful. The technique also reduces levels of asparagine, decreasing the formation of acrylamide, a chemical compound that results when potatoes and other foods are cooked at high temperatures. Humans consume RNA molecules in most food we eat, our bodies can’t tell whether they’ve been moved or meddled with.

 

Other genetically engineered ingredients we regularly consume include sugar from genetically engineered sugar beets, and oil from genetically engineered soybeans. Our bodies treat these foods the same as any others.”

 

Here’s what biotech expert Jeffrey Smith has to say about these safe-for-human-consumption potatoes: “When Brazilian research scientists fed tiny pieces of RNA to young honey bees, they expected little to happen—certainly nothing earth-shaking. The RNA used is not naturally found in bees. It was taken from jellyfish, chosen because it was supposed to have an insignificant impact.

 

The RNA didn’t cooperate.

 

After mixing just a single meal of RNA into the natural diet of the worker bee larvae, as the bees grew older, scientists discovered that a staggering 1461 genes showed significant changes compared to controls. In other words, about 10% of all the bees’ genes, including those vital to health, were either turned up in volume, or more often than not, turned down.

 

The authors of the study concluded that such a massive change ‘undoubtedly’ triggered changes in the bees’ development, physiology, and behavior. Perhaps the scientists from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) missed this 2013 study when they recently approved potatoes and apples genetically engineered not to brown?

 

‘Arctic’ apple slices (nicknamed the ‘Botox apple’) can supposedly sit on the shelf for 15-18 days without discoloring to reveal their age. Sliced up ‘Innate’ potatoes will similarly not show any darkening day after day until they eventually dry up. To accomplish this effect, scientists at Okanagan Specialty Fruits and J. R. Simplot introduced genetically engineered genes that make their apples and potatoes produce double stranded RNA (dsRNA) to shut off the browning genes. dsRNA is the same type of RNA that was fed to bees.

 

The question that serious scientists are asking is: If we (or bees, or birds, or deer) consume the dsRNA in the apple or potato, can it influence how our genes work? Will these genetically modified organisms (GMOs), eaten as apple pies, French fries, or whatever, change our development, physiology, and behavior?”

 

He goes on to write: “One of those serious scientists is Dr. Jack Heinemann, a professor of genetics and molecular biology, and director of the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

 

For more than a decade, he has been warning the agencies that approve GMOs about the need to test new dsRNAs for safety. RNA as Gene Controller, RNA is the way-station molecule between genes (made of DNA) and the proteins that they specify. Years ago, scientists were sure that the influence went only in one direction: DNA would pass on a code to RNA, which would then design proteins on that basis.

 

 “We have to be able to assess, before we use these foods,” asserts Heinemann, “whether they can have an adverse effect on people or on other organisms in the environment.”

 

While Ms. Senapathy and other proponent s of GM foods contend that consumers would become too confused to decide whether they want to consume genetically altered foods, she paints the nightmare scenario of manufacturers and producers being forced to disclose hybridization, cross-breeding, etc. which is ridiculous.

 

She ends her diatribe by going completely off the deep end with the claim that parents are made to feel guilty if they don’t feed their children organic foods…and that adding the burden of actually knowing what’s in our food would simply be too much to ask of over-burdened, guilt-ridden mommies and daddies.

 

She says the fight to demand better, to demand to know what’s in our food, including ingredients not produced in nature is just a ploy by the sinister organic industry to grow its market share. While there is no doubt that the organic industry is growing in leaps and bounds (and admittedly there has been some sketchy incidents within the industry), most of the companies working in organics began to do so with the intent to produce better food and to be kinder to the planet we call home. Consumer demand for better quality drives the consistent growth of this industry.  

 

In the end, these foods may look, smell, taste and feel like their organic and conventional counterparts. But you can’t see the DNA, can you? Just like we all look like humans, but are as different from each other as night and day, so are GM foods different from conventional foods. The challenge we face is that no one, in the bio-tech industry or outside of it, knows the long-term results of these foods on humanity or the planet.

 

I’ll close with the question I always ask and will continue to ask until I am answered in a sensible and truthful manner. If GMO’s are safe for human consumption and are basically the greatest thing since sliced bread for the planet, the farmer and the consumer, then why are millions of dollars being spent to keep them off food labels? Why are such lengths being taken to prevent this option from even reaching the ballot? I would stand proudly behind my product containing GMO’s if they are all of the positive things bio-tech companies say.

 

The problem is, they may not be. No one knows and we are, as Mark Bittman says, the guinea pigs in this experiment. And I for one, don’t like it one bit.

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