By Dr. Mercola
Should genetically engineered (GE) foods be labeled? Yes. In this article, I will lead you through the many why's of this argument.
As you may have heard, HR 1599,1 incorrectly named "The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act"2,3,4 introduced by Rep. Pompeo with guidance from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), was passed by the US House of Representatives on July 23, 2015.
The bill is commonly referred to as the "Deny Americans the Right to Know" or DARK Act, as it extends unprecedented protection to Monsanto and other biotechnology companies while decimating state- and consumer rights.
In addition to barring states from creating their own food labeling requirements for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), HR 1599 also preempts any and all state and local regulation of GE crops - increasing corporate control of our food systems.5
Adding insult to injury, HR 1599 will allow GMOs to be labeled as "natural," while forcing the the burden of cost to conventional food providers, requiring a federal certification to be labeled as non-GMO.
HR 1599 clearly flies in the face of polls6 showing that 94 percent of Americans think GMO labeling should be mandatory, which makes it even more obvious that our political system has become corrupted to the core.
The answer, however, is not to throw our hands up and think nothing that can be done about it. We CAN hold our elected leaders accountable by remembering how they vote on this issue, and we CAN let them know we WILL do so.
The starting point is always to discuss a state's rights. Anytime the federal government takes away state rights, it is feeding into the hands of accumulated power and corporate influence. We absolutely must demand local food & local democracy for the future of this country.
House Members Turned on Their Constituents
Not surprisingly, HR 1599 slipped through the House greased with lots of GMA (Grocery Manufacturers Association, aka Junk Food Industry) and biotech money. As reported by Open Secrets,7 House members who voted to ban GMO labeling received on average three times more money from the agribusiness during the 2014 election cycle than those who voted against it.
"All told, the 230 Republicans and 45 Democrats who voted to pass the bill collectively received over $29.9 million from the agribusiness sector and food and beverage industry during the 2014 cycle, or about $108,900 per member," Open Secrets reports.
"For all the election cycles since 1990, more than $115.1 million has gone to those who voted for the legislation this week (with an average of $418,644 per member), compared to almost $25.8 million for those who voted against it ($171,785 per member).
With numbers like those, anti-labeling advocates may be giving a whole new meaning to the term 'cash crop.'"
Important Action Item: Speak to Your Senators
Next, the bill will head into the Senate, where a vote could take place as early as September. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to contact your senators and make them understand how important this issue is to you, and indeed the nation as a whole.
You can use the points made in this article as reference. It's important to have these conversations as many senators have already been misled and misinformed by the GMA and biotech lobbyists.
You can also find your senators' contact information by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.
Now is also a great time to increase your impact by meeting your senators in person. The Senate will recess for one month starting on August 10, at which point all senators return to their home states. You can find out where they will be and set up an appointment by calling their district office.
A phone call has greater impact than an email, but a face-to-face meeting is usually the most impactful of all.
Remind Your Senators about the Executive Order on Preemption of State Rights
Democrats from agricultural states in particular need to be reminded about the President's executive order on preemption of state rights and standing up for the rights of consumers. As noted in a 2009 article by the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies:8
"On May 20, 2009, President Obama issued a Memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies on preemption.
The purpose of that Memorandum was to declare the new Administration's 'general policy' to be that 'preemption of State law by executive departments and agencies should be undertaken only with full consideration of the legitimate prerogatives of the States and with a sufficient legal basis for preemption.'
The President explained that, even though the Federal Government's role in promoting the general welfare is 'critical,' the States play a concurrent and often more aggressive role in protecting the health and safety of their citizens and the environment.
He stated that overreaching by the Federal Government with respect to preemption limits the ability of the States to 'apply to themselves rules and principles that reflect the[ir own particular] circumstances and values...'
The President's Memorandum discouraging regulatory preemption comes against a backdrop of calls from Congress and others for increased regulation in a variety of areas.
If put into law, market participants will have to shoulder greater regulatory burdens, but they will not receive immunity from state court lawsuits by doing so unless Congress provides for such immunity.
Special Action Item for Alaska: Help Educate Senator Murkowski
Senator Murkowski from Alaska appears to be in need of some special assistance. The Senate recently passed a spending bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that included a provision requiring genetically engineered salmon to be labeled.
The salmon labeling requirement was proposed by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and while she justifies her desire to label GMO salmon well, she doesn't seem to understand how crop pollination works, and appears to be waffling when it comes to labeling transgenic plants.
As reported by AgriPulse:9
"Murkowski told colleagues that farmers shouldn't be concerned that the salmon labeling would set a precedent for labeling biotech crops. 'Corn doesn't swim from one field to another and propagate with other corn in another state. Fish move. Fish escape,' she said."
She really needs to understand that pollen, like fish, "escape" their confines by way of blowing winds and pollinating insects. There's absolutely no way to stop transgenic plants from propagating outside their designated planting areas. Since they cannot be confined, transgenic plants pose just as much risk to the environment and to native or conventional plant species as transgenic fish do.
If you need any proof of this out-of-bounds transgenic plant proliferation, remember that Monsanto has successfully sued hundreds of unsuspecting farmers for patent infringement when unlicensed GE crops were found growing in their fields — brought there by the forces of nature itself, not by illegal planting of GE seeds.
It's really quite simple, either you're for labeling ALL genetically engineered foods, or none of them. There's no overriding difference between GE animal foods and plants, because they both pose very similar threats. To learn more, I recommend reading through my previous article, Why GMOs Can Never Be Safe.
If you live in Alaska, I encourage you to speak to Senator Murkowski, and to let her know that insisting on labeling for GE salmon but not for other foods is both illogical and short-sighted, and if she supports labeling GE salmon, she is by principle bound to support labeling for all other transgenic foods as well, and for the same fundamental reasons.
Encourage Presidential Candidates Paul and Sanders to Be Champions for the People
Senator Rand Paul10,11 (son of the well-known libertarian, Texas congressman, and former Presidential candidate Ron Paul) shows signs of being opposed to the preemption of state rights. The Campaign for Liberty12 has come out against HR 1599, and since Sen. Paul is running for President, along with Sen. Bernie Sanders, they both need to hear from you about this issue — regardless of where you live.
They need to know that as Presidential candidates, they have the opportunity to seize the vote of the people by tackling the GMO labeling issue head on. Sanders is from Vermont, which passed the first no-strings-attached GMO labeling bill in 2014. The law is set to take effect next year, provided it's not nullified by HR 1599. Sanders along with Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who is also the most senior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture,13 and California senators Boxer and Feinstein are all supporters of GMO labeling, so please urge them to be more vocal and to speak out about these issues.
Special Action Item for Maryland: Warn Senator Mikulski of Potential Sneak Attack
One oft-used tactic we need to be fully aware of and prepared for is that lobbyists may try to attach GMO labeling as a rider to another "must-pass" bill in order to squeeze it through the Senate. To do this, they have to go through Sen. Mikulski of Maryland, since she is top ranking Democrat of the Senate Appropriations Committee.14 If you live in Maryland, please speak to Sen. Mikulski and tell her to watch out for this, as she's been very supportive of GMO labeling historically.
As for all Americans, with HR 1599 now heading to the Senate we need you to contact your state senators and make strong points about why labeling is necessary and appropriate. Remember, the discussion is not so much about the safety of genetic engineering; rather the main talking points right now revolves around:
- The cost of labeling
- Who should shoulder the burden of labeling — suppliers of traditional foods, or the suppliers of novel transgenic foods?
Talking Point #1: GMO Labeling Will NOT Increase Cost of Food
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which was one of the hidden architects of HR 1599, managed to convince many of the House representatives that GMO labeling would increase food prices — on average by $500 for a family living in New York.15 This is a lie.
Studies, common sense, and historical examples tells us that printing four words (Produced with Genetic Engineering) on a food label will not increase the cost of that food at all. To understand the simple reasons why GMO labeling will not result in a price hike, please see the following graphic, created by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The EWG's "GMO Labeling Won't Increase Food Prices" page16 also lists six different studies that have analyzed the costs associated with GMO labeling and found them to be negligible to nonexistent.
Food Industry Contradicts Price Hike Claim with QR Code Program
If you're still not convinced the GMA is lying about labeling resulting in price hikes, consider this: the food industry, led by the GMA, has already contradicted its claim that food label changes would result in higher prices. How? By launching a QR code program17 to provide "GMO transparency" in lieu of stating "Produced with Genetic Engineering" right on the label . QR stands for Quick Response, and the code can be scanned and read by smart phones and other QR readers.
The code brings you to a product website that provides further details about the product, and may be linked to a coupon or other marketing ploys. How can printing four words on a label raise the annual food cost by $500 per family, while printing a new QR code and implementing and maintaining a website doesn't affect prices at all?
They destroy their own argument with the QR code program, and show us their true intention — which is to HIDE any information relating to GMO ingredients as far away from the product as possible. Instead of declaring GMO ingredients right on the box so you can see it at the moment of purchase, you have to scan the QR code with your smartphone (if you have one, which not everyone does, believe it or not), and then navigate through the product's website to try to figure out if any of its ingredients are transgenic.
And that's if the company is honest about it in the first place. There's nothing forcing companies to declare GMOs on their website. On the contrary, HR 1599 allows GMOs to be promoted as "natural," which further adds to the confusion. By making finding the truth time consuming and cumbersome, they can count on many Americans staying in the dark about the presence of GMOs in their products. This is not transparency.
The argument about a 'patchwork' of state laws is also untrue, but no reason to consider facts when it tests well in polling. The reality is that all of the state laws that have been passed or proposed require the same form of compliance, just four words: Produced with Genetic Engineering.
Enforcement is left up to the states as it should be, enforcement in CA would be much different than Vermont. This is the power of state rights, where enforcement is determined to best fit the state's ability to efficiently manage laws.
No Label Change Has Ever Led to Higher Food Prices
Last but not least, there's the historical evidence. Sixty-four nations around the globe have already implemented mandatory GMO labeling, and nowhere has this led to a rise in food prices. Neither have any other label changes in the US ever led to price increases. As noted in a Boston Globe Op-Ed by Rep. Jim McGovern (Massachusetts) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (Maine):18
"While plenty of things impact the prices we pay at the grocery store — including transportation costs and ingredient costs — GMO labeling is not one of them... Food companies change their labels all the time to make new claims, and all food companies will soon have to change their labels to make important changes to the Nutrition Fact Panel. Adding a few words to the back of the food package about genetic engineering will not have any impact of the cost of making food.
Opponents of updating food labeling made the same bogus arguments when they fought nutrition labeling in the 1980s. Back then, they claimed that disclosing the presence of calories, salt, fat, and sugar would require costly reformulations. But those much more significant changes to foods labels — adding the Nutrition Facts Panel and including more information about ingredients — didn't change the price of food at all." [Emphasis mine]
Talking Point #2: Consumers Expect Traditional Foods — Not GMOs — to Be the Norm; Hence Transgenic Foods Should Carry the Label and Distinction of Being 'Different'
The second talking point revolves around the question of who should shoulder the burden of labeling — suppliers of traditional foods, or the suppliers of novel transgenic foods? HR 1599 calls for the creation of a USDA non-GMO certification program similar to its National Organic Program — essentially shifting the burden of labeling to those who want to declare that their foods are not GMO. Essentially, they're saying: "Expect all foods to be GMO unless they're labeled non-GMO."
But if you buy salmon, do you EXPECT it to be a traditional salmon — the kind that have been swimming in the Earth's waters for eons — or do you expect it to be a salmon-like creature that has been gene spliced with eel or some other animal? When you buy an apple, do you EXPECT it to be an ordinary apple, or do you expect it to have been genetically altered to never brown?19
Why would we expect all foods to be transgenic when they're so novel many of us don't even know they exist? Using non-GMO certification to differentiate products is completely backward, for a number of reasons:
- Consumers expect traditional, historically available foods to be the norm. Many transgenic foods are not even known to exist until well after they're introduced to the market, so hence consumers cannot expect them to be the norm.
- Historically, hybrid foods such as tangelos (a hybrid cross between a tangerine and a pomelo, created through traditional hybridization techniques) have always been differentiated from traditional foods. Tangelos are not sold as tangerines because they're not regular tangerines. Their name differentiates them from the traditional food, and lets you know you're buying something novel and different. To not label transgenic foods, and to claim that they're equivalent to non-GMO varieties, runs contrary to established methods for differentiating hybrids from traditional foods.
- A major fraud20 is occurring within the seafood industry, where less expensive fish are fraudulently labeled as another species because they appear substantially equivalent to customers (i.e. taste and texture is very similar). This practice is very lucrative for deceptive suppliers. But even though consumers cannot tell the difference between the two species, it is still considered fraud to not accurately label them.
In many cases only DNA testing can confirm that a bait-and-switch has occurred, but the fact that the fish look and taste substantially equivalent is not an excuse suppliers can use as defense when caught mislabeling the species of their seafood. Transgenic fish may also look and taste substantially equivalent to consumers, but to not label it is fraud, as it is not genetically identical to the traditional species.
Any law that prevents transgenic labeling simply legalizes food fraud... New transgenic salmon is now nearing approval, and it currently would not be labeled as such (unless Senator Lisa Murkowski's [R-Alaska] labeling requirement gets written into law). This salmon is spliced with eel genes that enable it to grow three times faster than traditional salmon. So, in light of the three points made above:
- Should this new transgenic salmon really be allowed to be sold with other salmon without distinguishing its true transgenic nature?
- Or should they disclose that it's genetically engineered, since most people outside of the company that created it have no idea it even exists, and therefore wouldn't expect to be buying it?
- Or shouldn't they at least rename it something like "sEELmon" so that — like tangelos — people would know that this product differs in some way from the traditional product?
Talking Point #3: Three Safety Reasons for Labeling GMOs
The two talking points above are central to the argument for why GE foods should be labeled. But there's more points to be made, and these revolve around the issue of safety. But please understand you do not need to get involved in detailed discussions about the science of transgenic food development. We're not talking about thesafety of genetic engineering at this point. No, we're saying GE foods should be labeled because they are inherently less safe than conventional foods, and the arguments for this point are very simple:
- The top food ingredients we get from GMO crops today are high fructose corn syrup (corn), vegetable oil (corn, soy, canola, and cottonseed), and sugar (sugar beets). All of these ingredients have been scientifically identified as promoters of disease, so to say they're safe is not adequate when looking at long term chronic conditions. Non-GMO corn, soy, and sugar are harmful to begin with. When making comparisons of safety, it's much harder to show signs of additional harm when the ingredients are already primary contributors to much of the chronic disease occurring in this country, so in that respect, they're "substantially equivalent" in their hazard to human health. The substantial equivalence ends there, however.
- The number one trait we have in GMOs today is pesticide resistance, which allows the crop to absorb more of the pesticide.21 Roundup Ready crops are sprayed with the broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup, the active ingredient in which is glyphosate, which has been labeled a Class 2A carcinogen by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)22,23,24,25,26 (the research arm of the World Health Organization). Since GE foods expose consumers to higher levels of a known carcinogen, they should be labeled.
- Research27,28,29 has also shown that Roundup contributes to antibiotic resistance, which is now a well-recognized health threat in most Western countries. More specifically, Roundup was found to increase the antibiotic-resistance of E coli and Salmonella, two pathogens responsible for a large portion of foodborne illness and death.
- The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not test food for glyphosate because a) it has been assumed safe, and b) it's too expensive.30 (Glyphosate testing was only conducted once, in 2011, at which time 271 out of 300 food samples were found to have residues.)31 If the US government cannot or will not test foods for a carcinogen — even when a food absorbs more of that chemical by design — then such foods should be labeled, to allow consumers to assess their own overall exposure risk based on all the GE foods they buy on a regular basis.
To summarize some of these points, the GE ingredients in processed foods are well-established primary contributors to chronic disease. They're also more heavily contaminated with an antibiotic-resistance promoting carcinogen that the US government does not test for. Hence, GE foods are inherently less safe than conventional foods.
They're also by definition different from traditional foods, as they're hybridized using horizontal gene transfer, a process that does not occur in nature. Still, the burden of differentiation for products created using natural,traditional hybridization techniques has historically fallen on the hybrid producer. Hence, the arrows of logic point to the fact that GE foods should be labeled.
What's really ironic is many of those opposing state rights and gmo labeling are generally in favor of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). This is also relevant information for a customer, if you are for one you should easily see why it is consistent to want both. Where a product is from and if it is transgenic - it may not have anything to do with safety but it is certainly relevant to customers.
Talking Point #4: Promises versus Reality
The discussion of GMOs requires a separation of promises and claims versus reality.
Promise/Claim Reality Pesticide-resistant crops will reduce pesticide use. Since the inception of pesticide-resistant GE crops, the use of glyphosate has dramatically risen. In his paper "Pesticide Use on Genetically Engineered Crops,"32 Dr. Ramon J. Seidler, Ph.D., a former Senior Scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), presents USDA data showing that glyphosate use has increased 12-fold since 1996, when the first GE crops were introduced. Overall, annual herbicide use has risen by more than 500 million pounds. Insecticide-producing GE crops (Bt crops) have decreased insecticide use. Lobbyists claim insecticide has decreased over time, but usage data does not count the insecticide that is being produced by the plant itself, as a result of the genetic engineering. Bt crops are designed to produce its own bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin internally, thereby reducing the need for topical application of the insecticide.
These insecticide producing plants are registered with the EPA,33 but the EPA only counts topically applied Bt insecticide, not that which the plants produce — all of which basically ends up in your food, since it's an integrated part of the plant, which is probably why the EPA approved unlimited residues of GE Bt toxin in soybeans for human consumption in 2014.34
Bt applied topically degrades quickly in the sunlight. Typically after one week it is completely broken down (and sometimes as soon as 24 hours). It can also be washed off. This is not the case with Bt crops, because when produced internally, Bt does not photodegrade, nor can it be washed off, so you cannot avoid consuming it.
This is concerning, because even when natural Bt toxin (the topical version) was fed to mice, they suffered tissue damage, immune responses as powerful as those to cholera toxin, and even started reacting to other foods that were formerly harmless.
GE plants will not create pesticide or insecticide resistance Industry has been proven wrong on both counts, as exceptionally hardy superweeds are spreading (resistance has been documented on 60 million farm acres across the US), and overproduction of Bt crops has created resistance in insects35 that now costs US farmers an estimated $2 billion a year in damages.