Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

How Genetically Engineered Food Has Failed to Deliver on Its Promises

GMO
How Genetically Engineered Food Has Failed to Deliver on Its Promises

Pesticide Action Network

By Heather Pilatic

Twenty years ago this week Dan Quayle went against scientific consensus to publicly proclaim that genetically engineered (GE) foods were “substantially equivalent” to non-GE food, and that he would therefore work to ensure that GE food would not be “hampered by unnecessary regulation.” In the pivotal 1992 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruling that Quayle then proudly claimed as part of his “regulatory relief” agenda, the flood gates for GE were opened.

We’ve been living in that wake ever since because a small clutch of biotech “true believers,” ideologically anti-regulatory government officials and industry lobbyists have kept that flood gate open against great odds.

Agricultural biotech has consistently failed to deliver on promises, inspired a global backlash and remained suspect to consumers for twenty years. Yet our regulatory agencies play a game of hot potato, each devising more creative ways than the last to avoid taking a hard look at the fact that GE corn, soy and now alfalfa are the backbone of the industrial food system, and cover hundreds of thousands of acres of countryside without having passed any meaningful scientific scrutiny as to their safety (in part because scientists can’t get their hands on GE crops to study them). U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) actually has as a declared tenet of their strategic plan, the global proliferation of GE crop technologies.

“Regulatory relief.” Is that code for “we don’t want to do our jobs?”

How is it that a famously stupid politician, citing an illegitimate principle, can have precipitated 20 years of effectively unregulated GE crops? Short answer: he had an army, and they’re still marching to the same “regulatory relief” tune. The Obama administration itself has kept lock-step by appointing no less than five high profile colonels from the “Biotech Brigade.” Let’s take this alphabetically:

  • Roger Beachy—Was appointed to head the newly created National Institute of Food and Agriculture, positioning him to control the nation’s agricultural research agenda. Previously, Beachy directed Monsanto’s de facto nonprofit research arm, the Danforth Plant Science Center, where he presided from it’s founding in 1998.

  • Nina Federoff—Current “science and technology advisor” to the State Department and USAID. Before joining Condaleeza Rice’s State Department under Bush Jr. in 2007, Federoff was on the “scientific advisory board” of Evogene, an Israeli-based biotech company where she had served for five years; and on the board of Sigma-Aldrich, a transnational biotechnology company. Federoff has been a consistent and vocal proponent of agricultural biotech in the press and in policy circles. She is literally the U.S. ambassador for GE. 

  • Michael Taylor—Current Deputy Commissioner of Foods, where he oversees food safety policy for the federal government. From 1998—2001 Taylor was Monsanto's vice President for Public Policy, before that (1981—1991), he was a lawyer at a firm counting Monsanto among its clients. In 1991 Taylor was hired by the Bush Food and Drug Agency to fill the then newly created position of Deputy Commissioner of Policy. Among his more more momentous acts there was the 1992 policy allowing GE foods onto the market. 

  • Tom Vilsack—Current Secretary of Agriculture, former “Biotech Governor of the Year.” Founder and former chair of the “Governor’s Biotechnology Partnership.” Before being appointed in 2008, Vilsack worked as an attorney for a corporate law firm that represented agribusiness giants Cargill and Monsanto. He authored the 2005 seed pre-emption bill that strips local governments and communities of their right to regulate GE seed.

  • Islam Siddiqui—Current Agriculture Negotiator at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office where he negotiates and enforces trade agreements. Before taking this post in a recess appointment forced by massive public outcry, Siddiqui was CropLife America’s Vice President of Science and Regulatory Affairs, as well as their paid lobbyist between 2001—2003. Croplife America is the biotech-and-pesticide industry’s lobbying group. Members include Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta. Before working for industry, Siddiqui’s past service at the USDA included overseeing the initial development of national organic food standards that would have allowed GMOs and toxic sludge to be labeled “organic”—until more than 230,000 consumers forced their revision.

When government officials are consistently opposed to the idea of regulation (i.e. the implementation of rules of governance) one wonders what they’re doing in their posts…other than jockeying for a better-paid exit when they next waltz through the revolving door.

A fine tradition

To sum up: After 30 years of publicly subsidized research and 14 years of commercialization, agricultural biotechnology—despite its aggressive promotion by the Biotech Brigade, and facing precious few of those “unnecessary regulations”—has failed to deliver its promises of higher yields for U.S. farmers, or drought-resistance for developing country farmers.

What we have instead are skyrocketing herbicide use, an epidemic of resistant “super-weeds,” indebted farmers, polluted waterways, public health threats, pollinators dying en masse, and unparalleled corporate consolidation in the agrochemical and seed industries such that the top ten agribusinesses control 89 percent of the agrochemicals market, 66 percent of the biotech market and 67 percent of the global seed market.

Because that’s how the Biotech Brigade rolls.

Visit EcoWatch's GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM page for more related news on this topic.

With restaurants and supermarkets becoming less viable options during the pandemic, there has been a growth in demand and supply of local food. Baker County Tourism Travel Baker County / Flickr

By Robin Scher

Beyond the questions surrounding the availability, effectiveness and safety of a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic has led us to question where our food is coming from and whether we will have enough.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tearing through the crowded streets of Philadelphia, an electric car and a gas-powered car sought to win a heated race. One that mimicked how cars are actually used. The cars had to stop at stoplights, wait for pedestrians to cross the street, and swerve in and out of the hundreds of horse-drawn buggies. That's right, horse-drawn buggies. Because this race took place in 1908. It wanted to settle once and for all which car was the superior urban vehicle. Although the gas-powered car was more powerful, the electric car was more versatile. As the cars passed over the finish line, the defeat was stunning. The 1908 Studebaker electric car won by 10 minutes. If in 1908, the electric car was clearly the better form of transportation, why don't we drive them now? Today, I'm going to answer that question by diving into the history of electric cars and what I discovered may surprise you.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A technician inspects a bitcoin mining operation at Bitfarms in Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec on March 19, 2018. LARS HAGBERG / AFP via Getty Images

As bitcoin's fortunes and prominence rise, so do concerns about its environmental impact.

Read More Show Less
OR-93 traveled hundreds of miles from Oregon to California. Austin Smith Jr. / Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs / California Department of Fish and Wildlife

An Oregon-born wolf named OR-93 has sparked conservation hopes with a historic journey into California.

Read More Show Less
A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on Sept. 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania. The plant, owned by FirstEnergy, was retired the following month. Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

By David Drake and Jeffrey York

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The Big Idea

People often point to plunging natural gas prices as the reason U.S. coal-fired power plants have been shutting down at a faster pace in recent years. However, new research shows two other forces had a much larger effect: federal regulation and a well-funded activist campaign that launched in 2011 with the goal of ending coal power.

Read More Show Less