GMO Labeling: Nation's 'Biggest Food Fight' Hits DC
[Editor's note: Since the posting of this article this morning, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) filed legislation in Congress today to prevent states from giving their citizens the right to know whether the food they buy was made with genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs.]
Food products containing genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) are labeled in 64 countries all around the world, including Japan, China, Russia, Australia and the European Union. In many countries, consumers' right to know what they're eating is uncontroversial.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Not so in the U.S. While a vast majority of American consumers would like this information, industrial-scale food companies and chemical companies like Monsanto and DuPont that developed GMO crops and the pesticides and herbicides they're engineered to resist don't think they need it. While three states—Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island—have passed GMO labeling laws, ballot issues in California, Colorado and Oregon have gone down to defeat, thanks to massive spending by Monsanto, DuPont and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the corporate food business.
Now the battle has shifted to the national level, where the corporations that benefit from GMOs are pushing for the so-called DARK (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act, introduced by Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo, which would preempt states from setting up their own GMO labeling systems and bar them from defining "natural" foods as free from GMOs. Food safety advocates and consumer groups are fighting back, supporting a national mandatory labeling bill called the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, re-introduced in February by a group of congressional Democrats.
This morning, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on a national GMO labeling law. Following the hearing, Tom Colicchio, cofounder of Food Policy Action, Just Label It chairman Gary Hirshberg, Environmental Working Group (EWG) president Ken Cook and EWG vice president of governmental affairs Scott Faber held a teleconference to offer their thoughts on the bills, on GMO labeling in general and on the hearing, which Faber called "probably the most biased and unbalanced hearing in history of Congress."
Colicchio rebutted one of the main arguments made by the companies battling against labeling: that it would dramatically increase food costs.
"The opposition would suggest that costs to consumers will skyrocket," he said. "Manufacturers change labels all the time. Also the idea that we have to create a whole new system to track food—that’s already in place. A lot of this is scare tactics to get people to think prices will go through the roof and we don’t see that."
Cook pointed out that it's something people overwhelmingly want—as many as 90 percent, according to one poll.
"More than 1.4 million responded to a petition to label genetically engineered ingredients," he said. "We’re seeing more and more state action. Seventy bills were proposed in 30 states in last two years. The food companies are coming to Washington for a big government solution because of a consumer uprising that caught them off guard. This is designed for one reason and one reason alone—to extinguish this consumer uprising that these companies thought would never happen in the U.S. They thought [GMO labeling] was a European phenomenon."
There's been a push by GMO supporters to declare their safety for consumption a "settled" issue and compare those questioning it to climate deniers, despite the lack of solid evidence either way. Science Guy Bill Nye earned a flurry of attention recently when he appeared to walk back on his skepticism about safety claims following a meeting with Monsanto.
But Hirshberg pointed out that even if that debate WERE settled in favor of GMOs, there's still a big problem.
"There have been all kinds of exaggerations on both sides of the labeling debate—what I think we can call the biggest food fight in America," he said. "But one fact that is not in dispute is that genetically engineered foods have led to enormous increases in herbicide use because crops are engineered to be tolerant of herbicides. In many cases farmers become dependent on an herbicide spiral and more resistant weeds, leading to stronger chemicals."
He cited a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study that found the herbicide glyphosate, sold by Monsanto as Roundup which its "Roundup Ready" crops are engineered to resist, is found in most of the water sources in the Midwest.
"Higher yields [a commonly cited benefit of GMO crops] may come to pass, but 90 percent are engineered to tolerate more chemicals," he said. "So it's no surprise that companies selling these are chemical companies. We’ve been told since 1996, since the first herbicide-tolerant corn was introduced, that glyphosate is safe but as of Friday, we now know that what scientists have been saying for some time: the World Health Organization (WHO) has said glyphosate is probably a carcinogen. And it's in our rainwater, streams and air."
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Hirshberg said he believed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the power now to require GMO labeling, which the DARK Act would block, and brushed aside another common industry claim, that labeling would be equivalent to telling consumers to avoid a product, pointing out that orange juices made from concentrate must be labeled and it's only considered a point of information, not a warning.
"This is economic tyranny being exercised by companies that want to protect status quo," he said. 'The fastest growing segment of the marketplace is organic and non-GMO. Mandatory labeling gives consumers choices. The bill [the DARK Act] is really diabolical and it’s really deceptive. It’s made to look like the sponsors support transparency but it really prevents it. This is really about selling pesticides and herbicides."
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
How does your burrito impact the environment? If you ordered it from Chipotle, there is now a way to find out.
- Food's Environmental Impact Varies Greatly Between Producers ... ›
- Panera Bread Becomes First Chain to Use Climate-Friendly Label ... ›
Are you noticing your shirts becoming too tight fitting to wear? Have you been regularly visiting a gym, yet it seems like your effort is not enough? It's okay to get disappointed, but not to lose hope.
By Sarah Steffen
A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
- 8 World Cities That Could Be Underwater as Oceans Rise - EcoWatch ›
- Endangered Migratory Birds on Collision Course with New Airport ... ›
- How Is Climate Change Affecting the Philippines? - EcoWatch ›
A pair of studies released Monday confirmed not only the presence of water and ice on the moon, but that it is more abundant than scientists previously thought. Those twin discoveries boost the prospect of a sustainable lunar base that could harvest the moon's resources to help sustain itself, according to the BBC.
- Scientists Find Rust on the Moon 'Puzzling' - EcoWatch ›
- Historic NASA/SpaceX Mission Could Pave the Way for Space ... ›
- NASA Study of Increasingly Dire Global Water Shortages Finds ›
- Groundbreaking NASA Announcement: Evidence of Liquid Water on ... ›