By Martha Rosenberg
Recently, Organic Consumers Association, along with Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety filed suit against chicken giant Sanderson Farms for falsely marketing its products as "100% Natural" even though they contain many unnatural and even prohibited substances.
Specifically, Sanderson chicken products tested positive for the antibiotic chloramphenical, banned in food animals, and amoxicillin, not approved for use in poultry production. Sanderson Farms products also tested positive for residues of steroids, hormones, anti-inflammatory drugs—even ketamine, a drug with hallucinogenic effects.
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By Stacy Malkan
Neil deGrasse Tyson has inspired millions of people to care about science and imagine themselves as participants in the scientific process. What a hopeful sign it is to see young girls wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the words, "Forget princess, I want to be an astrophysicist."
CBD, one of the many compounds found in the cannabis plant, has been getting a lot of attention recently. Some of it good and some of it bad. Increasingly, people in the UK are turning to CBD oils for help in relieving pain, anxiety, sleep and a host of other health issues.
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In less than three weeks, Vermont will enact a historic mandate that requires labels on products containing genetically modified (GMOs) ingredients. The no-strings-attached bill, which the country's second smallest state passed on May 2014 and goes into effect July 1, has rippled across the food industry and has sparked a bitter and expensive food fight from opponents of the law.
But with only 17 days to go, it looks like Big Food has unenthusiastically surrendered despite spending millions upon millions to fight state-by-state labeling mandates in court and to lobby Congress.
In March, Congress ultimately failed to pass an industry-approved bill introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) that would have prevented states from requiring labeling of GMO foods and stopped pending state laws that require labeling to go into effect.
Sen. Charles Grassley, a Senate Agriculture committee member, indicated it may be too late to enact a standard, nationwide labeling approach.
“I see it as very difficult to get a compromise,” the Iowa Republican told the Des Moines Register earlier this month. “I hope something would develop this week that we could get something passed, but frankly, I doubt it.”
According to Politico's latest Morning Agriculture blog, "Senate Agriculture committee chairman Pat Roberts and ranking member Debbie Stabenow are still trying to find common ground on GMO labeling legislation amid warnings from the food manufacturing, agriculture and biotechnology industries that time is running out before Vermont's mandatory labeling law takes effect July 1."
Congress, which returned from recess on June 6, now has only 14 working days to resolve the issue before the July 1 deadline.
Big Food believes that labeling GMO products for one state without labeling them for the 49 others would be costly, warning that labels would force the buck onto the consumer, or even scare them away completely. Although the food industry has consistently maintained the health and safety of GMOs, the overwhelming majority of Americans support labels on foods with such ingredients.
Cereal Giant General Mills to Start Labeling GMOs Nationwide as Vermont Law Looms https://t.co/mdW7ggjltx @justlabelit @GMWatch— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1458509435.0
As Minnesota's Star Tribune reported, these food companies appear resigned to GMO labeling despite having plenty of reservations:
In March, shortly after the Senate declined to vote on a national ban on mandatory on-package GMO labeling, General Mills said it would label products to comply with the Vermont law and distribute those products nationwide while awaiting a national standard.
In an e-mail exchange with the Star Tribune, a company spokeswoman called the packaging change “costly.” Asked whether General Mills would now accept a national law that requires mandatory on-package GMO labels, the spokeswoman said, “The most important thing at this point is that we set a national standard so that we have certainty moving forward.”
The editorial board of the Packer, a publication covering the fresh produce industry, came to terms with Vermont's label law in an op-ed, How to deal with Vermont.
The board reported on the United Fresh Produce Association's new white paper outlining steps that produce growers and retail members should take to prepare for Vermont's GMO law, and also bitterly huffed that shippers could simply choose not to work with the tiny state:
Shippers of GM-free product also don’t need to do anything, and it seems unwise to us to begin labeling product as GM-free, thus unnecessarily spooking the consumer.
Of course, shippers could also decline to do business with receivers in the 49th-most populous state, home to about 600,000 consumers.
The United Fresh Produce Association's white paper is similar to the road map issued by the the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a trade group which represents more than 300 food and beverage titans such as ConAgra, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg and Hershey.
As EcoWatch exclusively reported, back in October the GMA posted on its website a six page, 29-point FAQ in order “to respond to questions that companies have about compliance with the Vermont law,” Roger Lowe, the executive vice president of GMA’s Strategic Communications, told us via email.
It's clear that food companies are quietly preparing for Vermont's seemingly inevitable label law. Starting in 2017, companies that fail to comply with the state's GMO labeling law will be punished with a $1,000 fine each day if a product is not properly labeled.
Many other states are also working on their own labeling initiatives, with Connecticut and Maine enacting their own mandate when similar bills are passed by at least four other states.
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The majority of European Union governments voted against a proposal to authorize two new strains of genetically modified (GMO) maize today.
The two varieties of maize, DuPont Pioneer's 1507 and Syngenta's Bt11, kill insects by producing its own pesticide and is also resistant Bayer's glufosinate herbicide.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it will not regulate the potential cultivation and sale of a genetically modified (GMO) mushroom the same way it regulates conventional GMOs because the mushroom was made with the genome-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9.
Thanks to a new gene-editing tool, the common white button mushroom has been genetically altered to resist browning. Photo credit: Flickr
This is the first time the U.S. government has cleared a food product edited with the new and controversial technique.
The USDA announced in a letter last week that it had approved Pennsylvania State University plant pathologist Yinong Yang's common white button mushroom (Agaricus bosporus) that's engineered to be more resistant to browning. As the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) wrote on April 13:
The anti-browning trait reduces the formation of brown pigment (melanin), improving the appearance and shelf life of mushroom, and facilitating automated mechanical harvesting.
Based on the information cited in your letter, APHIS has concluded that your CRISPR/Cas9-edited white button mushrooms as described in your letter do not contain any introduced genetic material. APHIS has no reason to believe that CRISPR/Cas9-edited white button mushrooms are plant pests.
According to Nature, the mushroom was created by targeting the family of genes that encodes the enzyme polyphenol oxidase that causes browning. "By deleting just a handful of base pairs in the mushroom’s genome, Yang knocked out one of six PPO genes—reducing the enzyme’s activity by 30 percent," Nature reported.
"If you snip a bit of DNA from a vegetable, but add no new genes, does that vegetable qualify as a GMO?" https://t.co/DH3109Jkar— Farm Aid (@Farm Aid)1460929504.0
So why has this deliberately genetically modified "frankenfungi" escaped USDA scrutiny? Well, instead of the conventional method in which foreign DNA is spliced into a seed (i.e. Bt corn), genetic modification of Yang's mushroom was achieved by altering its own genetic material.
As Quartz explained, a CRISPR-created product falls under a certain loophole:
Despite being directly and purposely genetically modified, USDA has allowed Yang’s mushroom to sidestep the regulatory system. The reason? Yang’s method does not contain “any introduced genetic material” from a plant pest such as bacteria or viruses. Conventional GMOs, the ones that the USDA’s rules are designed to deal with, are created by introducing foreign genes—for example, those of a bacteria might be introduced to give the crop some pest resistance.
Ultimately, the GMO mushroom could be the first of many new CRISPR-edited food products.
“The research community will be very happy with the news," Caixia Gao, a plant biologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology in Beijing, who was not involved in developing the mushroom, told Nature. "I am confident we'll see more gene-edited crops falling outside of regulatory authority.”
Quartz reported that there are already several CRISPR projects in development, including DuPont's drought-resistant wheat and corn, a banana that can resist a fungus threatening that's threatening its extinction and a herbicide-resistant oilseed from the biotech company Cibus.
“The USDA decision is a perfect illustration of how weak regulations for evaluating genetically engineered crops are,” Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch, told Quartz.
Absurd! We need new regs to keep up with technology. Gene-edited CRISPR mushroom escapes US regulation https://t.co/wuRejnugbX #gmo #gmos— Max Goldberg (@Max Goldberg)1460944636.0
Wait, what? USDA says it won't regulate this new GMO mushroom: https://t.co/nPLKk7qkve #WhatIsGoingOn #WhyTheChange #NoGMOs— HealthRanger (@HealthRanger)1460905206.0
Yang told Nature he is considering whether or not to bring the mushroom to market.
“I need to talk to my dean about that," he said. "We’ll have to see what the university wants to do next."
Yang, however, told MIT Technology Review that even the company that helped fund the research, Giorgio Mushroom Co. of Pennsylvania, isn't sure if they want the mushroom in a store near you given the public's overwhelming skepticism of GMOs.
“[The] marketing people at Giorgio are more interested in organic mushrooms and are afraid of negative response regarding GMO from consumers,” Yang said.
A 2015 Pew Research Poll revealed that 57 percent of U.S. adults believe that GMO-foods are “generally unsafe” to eat.
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Christine and Kenneth Sheppard, the former owners of Dragon’s Lair Kona Coffee Farm in Honaunau, Hawaii, have accused the multinational agribusiness of falsely masking the carcinogenic risks of glyphosate and is responsible for causing the woman’s cancer, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.
Hawaii's prized Kona coffee is cultivated in the North and South Kona districts in Hawaii. Photo credit: Flickr
The civil suit, Sheppard et al v. Monsanto Company, was filed Feb. 2 in U.S. District Court in Honolulu by the Miller Firm of Orange, Virgina and Honolulu attorney Brian K. Mackintosh on behalf of the husband-and-wife duo.
The plaintiffs seek unspecified monetary damages, including compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and court costs.
According to the complaint, Christine Sheppard had used Roundup on her commercial coffee farm in Hawaii in or around 1995 and continued to use the herbicide until 2004. She said she was diagnosed with cancer in 2003 and, as a result, was forced to sell her farm and move to California to undergo treatment.
“She’s been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a very serious form of cancer that’s gone to Stage 4,” attorney Michael Miller told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. “She’s had enormous treatment and now is in remission, but is in fear of it coming back. So, we’re seeking a fair amount of damages—her medical expenses, her pain, her suffering and her mental anguish. And we’ll ask a jury to put a number on that at an appropriate time.”
The filing states Monsanto “knew or had reason to know that its Roundup products were defective and were inherently dangerous and unsafe when used in the manner instructed and provided by defendant.”
“Agricultural workers are, once again, victims of corporate greed,” it continues. “Monsanto assured the public that Roundup was harmless. In order to prove this, Monsanto championed falsified data and attacked legitimate studies that revealed its dangers. Monsanto led a prolonged campaign of misinformation to convince government agencies, farmers and the general public that Roundup was safe.”
The Miller Firm also helped Sheppard file an earlier lawsuit in November in California federal court. A month later, Monsanto asked the court to dismiss the suit, saying that the court has no jurisdiction over Sheppard's claims since her allegedly cancer-causing exposure happened in Hawaii and the company is headquartered in Missouri, according to Law360.
Monsanto also argued then that the “plaintiff’s allegations are directly contradicted not only by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s prior express approval of the product and product label but also by EPA’s consistent findings that glyphosate is not carcinogenic to humans.”
“While we are sympathetic to anyone suffering an illness, claims regarding glyphosate in these type of lawsuits are baseless and without merit, and we will defend against these suits vigorously,” Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Lord told Law360 in an November email. “Glyphosate has a 40-year history of safe use, and based on the overwhelming weight of evidence, regulatory agencies around the world have concluded that glyphosate can be used safely according to label instructions.”
Monsanto sued by former #Kona coffee farmers | https://t.co/qGwNkNxP08 https://t.co/06TmKZtCId— West Hawaii Today (@West Hawaii Today)1454616038.0
Monsanto issued a similar response to the Sheppards' latest lawsuit last week.
The Sheppards' claims compounds with the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that infamously classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Since the IARC’s classification, several communities have demanded bans, France has ceased sales of Roundup in garden centers, California’s Environmental Protection Agency issued plans to list glyphosate as a possible carcinogen under Proposition 65, in which the state is required to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm.
“I feel strongly about the fact that Monsanto should have told people that their herbicide is a cancer-causing agent and they haven’t warned people. It’s a shame,” Miller added. “Once the World Health Organization says you are probably a cancer-causing agent, you are a cancer-causing agent. That’s why California has implemented Proposition 65 (the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986), to let everybody know (glyphosate) is a cancer-causing agent."
Monsanto says glyphosate is safe and vehemently denies the cancer claims. The St. Louis-based company has demanded a retraction from the IARC and even filed a lawsuit in California to stop the state from listing glyphosate as known to cause cancer.
Christine Sheppard has spoken out against biotechnology before when she served as president of the Kona Coffee Council, an organization of Hawaiian farmers who grow, process and sell Kona coffee. In a 2002 news release, she spoke out against genetically modified (GMO) coffee plants.
"We represent more than 130 coffee farmers who depend on our unique and historically significant Kona coffee for their livelihood," she said. "Kona coffee is recognized as one of the worlds two grand cru coffees—introduction of GM plants could debase not only the flavor and quality of our coffee, but would also make it unmarketable in many areas of the world. GM foods are unaccepted in Japan and Europe (where they are known as "Franken-foods"); as Americans become more aware of the untested safety aspects and the absence of any labeling requirement for GM foods, many will reject them also."
The Kona coffee lawsuit is one of many glyphosate-related lawsuits Monsanto is currently staring down. Reuters reported in October that personal injury law firms around the U.S. are gathering numerous plaintiffs to build mass tort actions against the agribusiness giant.
Roundup was recently declared the “most widely applied pesticide worldwide,” according to a report published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe.
The paper, Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally, reveals that since 1974, when Roundup was first commercially sold, more than 1.6 billion kilograms (or 3.5 billion pounds) of glyphosate has been used in the U.S., making up 19 percent of the 8.6 billion kilograms (or 18.9 billion pounds) of glyphosate used around the world.
“Roundup Ready” crops, such as soy, corn, canola, alfalfa and cotton, are genetically engineered to withstand direct applications of Roundup, as the product kills only the weeds.
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By Reynard Loki
Editor's note: The terms GE (genetic engineering) and GMO (genetically modified organism) are often used interchangeably, but their meanings are different. GMOs, which are produced when plant breeders select genetic traits that may also occur naturally, have been around for centuries. Common examples are seedless watermelons and modern broccoli. The subject of much recent debate are GE foods, which have only been around in recent decades and are produced by transferring genes between organisms. The resulting GE organisms—either plant- or in the case of GE salmon, animal-based—would not otherwise occur in nature. This article is about GE foods.
The Center for Food Safety, an nonprofit organization, announced plans to sue the federal agency. Grocery store chains around the country have also made commitments to not sell the controversial fish.
We are suing the FDA! HELP CFS FIGHT THE APPROVAL OF #GESALMON IN COURT! Help out here: https://t.co/nQFTUXGKhv https://t.co/Fn9KeiIH60— Center 4 Food Safety (@Center 4 Food Safety)1447977650.0
“The fallout from this decision will have enormous impact on the environment. Center for Food Safety has no choice but to file suit to stop the introduction of this dangerous contaminant,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. “FDA has neglected its responsibility to protect the public.”
Kimbrell, on behalf of the environmental organization, submitted a citizen petition to the FDA requiring "foods that are genetically engineered organisms, or contain ingredients derived from genetically engineered organisms" be labeled under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act.
The FDA has since repsonded to the petition with a 35-page document that denies the Center for Food Safety's request. It states:
Under the FD&C Act [the] FDA cannot require that all foods derived from genetically engineered plants, as a class, be labeled as having been genetically engineered.
Further, while we appreciate consumer interest in the labeling of food derived from genetically engineered plants, consumer interest alone does not provide a sufficient basis to require labeling disclosing whether a food has been produced with or without the use of such genetic engineering.
AquaBounty's salmon is genetically altered to grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon. According to Reuters, "the fish is essentially Atlantic salmon with a Pacific salmon gene for faster growth and a gene from the eel-like ocean pout that promotes year-round growth."
It will take about two more years to reach the market as distribution is being worked out, the Massachusetts-based company says.
Nearly 2 million people filed public comments opposing the approval of GMO salmon by the FDA, the largest number of comments the FDA has ever received on an action.
A Pew Research Poll last year also revealed that 57 percent of U.S. adults believe that GMO-foods are “generally unsafe” to eat.
Some people might be wondering whether this fish will make it onto plates since "more than 60 grocery store chains representing more than 9,000 stores across the U.S. have made commitments to not sell the GMO salmon, including Safeway, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Aldi and many others," according to the environmental nonprofit, Friends of the Earth.
However, many Big Food grocers are absent from this list. Costco, one of the largest retailers of salmon and seafood in the U.S., remains open to selling GMO salmon despite vehement opposition from activists. Similarly, Walmart, the country's largest supermarket chain (which accounts for 15 percent of fresh food sales in the U.S.), has not announced whether or not it will sell GMO salmon.
Additionally, a lack of GMO labeling laws might mean that consumers will not have a choice over the matter. AquAdvantage Salmon, the trade name for the genetically modified Atlantic salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies, will not require a GMO label under FDA guidelines.
Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, wrote after yesterday's announcement from the FDA:
"To add insult to injury, this product will be hitting store shelves without labeling, making it impossible for concerned consumers to distinguish GMO from non-GMO salmon. Not only does this ignore consumers’ fundamental right to know how our food is produced, it is simply bad for business, since many consumers will avoid purchasing any salmon for fear it is genetically engineered."
Hauter also says that the "FDA’s decision also disregards AquaBounty’s disastrous environmental record, which greatly raises the stakes for an environmentally damaging escape of GMO salmon."
Critics of GMO salmon have called it "frankenfish" and have made their feelings about it very clear, as seen in this video:
“Despite FDA’s flawed and irresponsible approval of the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption, it’s clear that there is no place in the U.S. market for genetically engineered salmon,” said Lisa Archer, food and technology program director at Friends of the Earth. “People don’t want to eat it and grocery stores are refusing to sell it.”
Scott Faber, executive director of Just Label It, said that the decision to approve GMO salmon without a mandatory disclosure is "yet another example of how FDA’s outdated policy keeps consumers in the dark."
The FDA as well as many major food companies maintain that GMO foods are safe for consumption and for the environment and that mandatory GMO labels would be misleading. As EcoWatch reported in October, Big Food has spent millions of dollars and extensively lobbied lawmakers for a national ban on GMO labels ... and it might actually happen.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of H.R. 1599 in July, which bans states from requiring GMO labels on food. It also blocks the FDA from ever implementing mandatory GMO food labeling and allows food companies to continue to make “natural” claims for foods containing GMO ingredients. The bill has been dubbed the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” Act or DARK Act by opponents. A Senate version of the bill could hit the floor in the coming weeks.
The Senate is back! The #DARKAct bill now heads to Senate for consideration. http://t.co/EZLAwQmdTG #StoptheDARKAct http://t.co/CFGS4k7HXo— Center 4 Food Safety (@Center 4 Food Safety)1441988173.0
“Consumers will have no way of knowing whether the salmon they are buying comes from nature or comes from a lab," Faber added. "It makes sense to give consumers the right to know and to choose whether this fish, or any other food that contains GMO ingredients, is right for their dinner table.
“A non-judgmental, factual disclosure of the presence of GMOs is all we are asking for. FDA’s continued reliance on voluntary labeling schemes will only further consumer confusion. It’s time the federal government trusted American consumers enough to make their own decisions about this novel technology."
The debate over the FDA's approval of GMOs raises questions about the future of our food. As Ecowatch reported earlier this month, in addition to GMO salmon, there are two different varieties of GMO pork that are currently in development: a pig that is “edited” with a warthog gene to resist African swine fever; and a “double-muscled” designed to have leaner meat and have a higher yield of meat per animal.
Genetically engineered cows are also in development: one that produces B-lactoglobulin-free milk (which causes allergies and digestive and respiratory reactions in infants), and another type of cow that has been genetically modified to be born without horns to reduce the risk of injury to farmers and other animals.
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Deceptive Tactics Used by Industry-Funded Group to Gain Support for Bill That Would Ban GMO Labeling
A group that is opposed to mandatory labeling of genetically modified food (GMOs) used deceptive tactics to mislead citizens into thinking they were supporting GMO labeling legislation when, in fact, they were supporting legislation that would block labeling.
The “astroturf” campaign was conducted by the biotech industry-funded Coalition for Safe Affordable Food, to gain citizen support for national legislation, H.R. 1599 or “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015,” known by opponents as the DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know Act). H.R. 1599 passed the House of Representatives in July and a companion bill is expected to be introduced into the Senate this fall.
Who is the "Coalition for Safe Affordable Food"? (Hint, do NOT sign their petitions) http://t.co/7vfQ64w9wF #BanGMO http://t.co/UNJkJmnSoa— Susan #SaveSocialSec (@Susan #SaveSocialSec)1427587818.0
Survey on GMO Labeling
The deceptive tactics were reported by Julie Freitas, a 66-year-old childbirth educator based in Southern California. One evening Freitas received a call from a man asking if she would answer a few questions for a survey about labeling genetically modified foods. Freitas said she would answer the questions, telling the man that she supported GMO labeling.
He asked Julie if she would take action on GMO labeling and she said she would, thinking that H.R. 1599 would establish labeling of GMO foods across the U.S.
“He indicated that people should know what’s in their food,” she said.
The man asked Freitas if she would be willing to write a letter supporting labeling legislation. She said she didn’t want to write a letter so the man suggested that he write the letter and that Freitas could just sign it. She agreed.
The man didn’t tell Freitas that H.R. 1599 would ban mandatory labeling of GM foods.
Pre-Written Letter to Congressman Supporting H.R. 1599
A day or two after the phone survey, Freitas received an envelope in the mail titled “Rush-Priority Express.” The envelope contained a letter from the man who interviewed her who was with the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food. There was also a pre-written personalized letter to her Congressman, Tony Cardenas, with Freitas’s name at the bottom. The letter stated that the “FDA was the logical solution to regulating genetically modified foods entering our food supply.” The letter urged Rep. Cardenas to support H.R. 1599.
The letter ended by stating, “Please join me in supporting the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 to make sure groceries remain affordable and to ensure the safety of all Americans.”
Freitas’s name was at the bottom of the letter with a space for her signature.
When Freitas read the letter, she was shocked.
“I would never say anything like that,” she said. “I didn’t know that he would be endorsing that the FDA be the agency overseeing labeling. I wouldn’t sign or send these papers to Tony Cardenas.”
Freitas thought the man was being deceptive.
“I thought it was very clever,” she said. “This is how people can do something that they don’t realize at the time they are doing.”
Industry-Funded Front Groups Misleading the Public
The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food is one of seven industry front groups identified in a recent report that is deliberately misleading the public and reporters on facts about industrial agriculture, including GMOs and organic food production. The report, “Spinning Food,” describes how big food and agrochemical companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years on stealth public relations tactics, deploying front groups—such as the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food—to push coordinated messages attacking organic food production, defending pesticides and promoting GMOs.
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If 64 countries including Russia and China have transparency in labeling genetically modified foods, or GMOs, why doesn't the U.S.?
Two big reasons: Big Food and Big Ag lobbyists. Our policy is to approve first and ask questions later.
Trans fats are a perfect example. Trans fats killed hundreds of thousands of people before they were banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 50 years after they were found to be harmful.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Do we have to wait that long for GMOs? If the conservative The New England Journal of Medicine is calling for better research, clear food labeling and calling out a warning about GMOs, we should be worried!
Here's an excerpt from what The New England Journal of Medicine said in its recent post "GMOs, Herbicides and Public Health":
The application of biotechnology to agriculture has been rapid and aggressive. The vast majority of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are now genetically engineered. Foods produced from GM crops have become ubiquitous. And unlike regulatory bodies in 64 other countries, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require labeling of GM foods.
Two recent developments are dramatically changing the GMO landscape. First, there have been sharp increases in the amounts and numbers of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops, and still further increases—the largest in a generation—are scheduled to occur in the next few years. Second, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate, the herbicide most widely used on GM crops, as a “probable human carcinogen” and classified a second herbicide, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), as a “possible human carcinogen.”
Finally, we believe the time has come to revisit the United States' reluctance to label GM foods. Labeling will deliver multiple benefits. It is essential for tracking emergence of novel food allergies and assessing effects of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops. It would respect the wishes of a growing number of consumers who insist they have a right to know what foods they are buying and how they were produced. And the argument that there is nothing new about genetic rearrangement misses the point that GM crops are now the agricultural products most heavily treated with herbicides and that two of these herbicides may pose risks of cancer. We hope, in light of this new information, that the FDA will reconsider labeling of GM foods and couple it with adequately funded, long-term postmarketing surveillance.
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There's nothing new or unusual about corporate and academic collaboration. IBM, for instance, has partnered with universities around the country since the 1940s to support computer science education. This relationship is mutually beneficial both for the tech giant and the institutions sponsored. IBM's grant dollars provide welcome funding for research and equipment for students, all while fostering a new class of computer scientists and engineers.
Powerful industries from Big Oil to Big Food have been found funneling eye-popping sums of money to university professors in order to fund research and promote their commercial interests.iStock
University-business partnerships, however, require a careful balance. Take the tobacco industry. According to a 2012 study by Harvard professor Allan Brandt, cigarette makers all but invented the concept of industry-academic conflicts of interest.
Since the 1950s, cigarette companies have sought to influence the debate about the dangers of smoking to sell more of their products. One tactic used was aligning with university-based science and underwriting millions of dollars for favorable research.
A number of industries have evidently taken a page from the tobacco playbook. Powerful industries from Big Oil to Big Food have been found funneling eye-popping sums of money to university professors in order to fund research and promote their commercial interests.
The corporate hijacking of higher education is more complex than it looks. When state universities or land grant colleges see their budgets stretched thin, some faculty may feel pressured to seek or accept much-needed funding in ways that are not transparent to the public.
#BigOil, Not #BigTobacco, Wrote the Public Skepticism Playbook https://t.co/k4rFFXue9n @ciel_tweets @350 @billmckibben @NRDC @sierraclub— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1469108425.0
Nonetheless, academics are counted upon for the integrity of their assertions. Industry funding has been shown to undermine objectivity and professors violate their responsibilities as impartial experts as well as the public's trust when they associate with unscrupulous commercial interests.
Here are 13 prominent university professors who appear to have stepped over the line between big business and academia:
1 & 2. Carol O'Neil & Theresa Nicklas. Back in 2011, a number of media outlets breathlessly touted a surprising new study that found children who eat candy weigh less than children who do not. The study's authors included professors O'Neil of Louisiana State University and Nicklas of Baylor College of Medicine and Victor Fulgoni, a former Kellogg executive and consultant.
Unsurprisingly, an Associated Press investigation by Candice Choi revealed that paper was not only partially sponsored by the National Confectioners Association—which counts such candy giants as Hershey, Wrigley, Mars and Nestle as group members—but that the trade group also made a number of suggestions to the paper.
"You'll note I took most but not (all) their comments," Fulgoni wrote in an email to O'Neil in 2010.
A similar study on candy and adults also received comments from the candy group.
O'Neil told the AP she did not receive compensation for the work, but in 2011, Nicklas sent Nutrition Impact, Fulgoni's consulting business, an invoice for $11,500 for three manuscripts, including $2,500 for "candy." The professors also co-authored a paper about the health benefits of chickpeas and hummus funded by Sabra Dipping Co. Even though a disclosure said that Sabra did not provide input, the final paper did include the company's suggestions, the AP reported.
3. Wei-Hock Soon. The aerospace engineer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is a noted climate change skeptic, who asserts that global warming is caused by the sun, not human activity. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents obtained by Greenpeace showed that Soon accepted more than $1 million over the last decade from fossil fuel titans such as Exxon Mobil, the American Petroleum Institute, the Koch brothers and more.
The New York Times reported that Soon failed to disclose that conflict of interest in his scientific papers at least 11 times. This is also telling: His work is often cited by prominent climate-denying politicians, including snowball-wielding Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the chairman of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works who considers Soon one of his personal heroes.
Soon still passionately defends his work and presented his research at a Paris climate conference "counter-conference" alongside Heartland Institute, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
4. William Happer. In December, a bombshell Greenpeace sting suggested that two academics from prominent universities could be bought by fossil fuel companies. The first was Happer, a Princeton University professor and prominent climate change skeptic. The physicist, who is not a climatologist, was approached by Greenpeace activists posing as consultants of a Beirut-based energy company to author a paper on "the benefits of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels."
Emails show that Happer wanted $250 an hour for his work and asked that his fee be paid to the climate-doubting group CO2 Coalition, where he's a board member. Happer also disclosed in the emails that Peabody Energy donated $8,000 to the CO2 Coalition for testimony in a Minnesota hearing on the impacts of carbon dioxide.
The Greenpeace investigation was released hours before Happer testified at Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Tex.) bizarre Senate hearing disputing climate change. Right before his testimony, when a Greenpeace researcher confronted Happer about how much money he received from Peabody, Happer barked, "You son of a bitch, I haven't taken a dime!"
Happer has not disputed the veracity of the emails but refused to comment about the operation.
Exposed: Academics-for-hire agree not to disclose fossil fuel funding #COP21 https://t.co/xMyxNzdrEZ https://t.co/eEFDpn2pa5— Greenpeace UK (@Greenpeace UK)1449585541.0
5. Frank Clemente. The professor emeritus of sociology at Penn State University was the second professor implicated by the Greenpeace operation. This time, Greenpeace activists posed as Indonesian coal mining representatives and approached Clemente to write a report before the Paris climate talks "to counter damaging research on linking coal to premature deaths," according to published emails.
Clemente, who has previously argued against coal divestment among educational institutions, agreed and requested $15,000 for an 8- to 10-page report and emphasized he would not have to disclose his sponsor.
"There is no requirement to declare source funding in the U.S.," Clemente wrote in an email. "My research and writing has been supported by government agencies, trade associations, the university and private companies and all has been published under the rubric of me as an independent scholar—which I am."
In response, Clemente told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation he was an independent consultant and not on the Penn State payroll during the sting. "I fully stand behind every single statement I made," he said.
6. Bruce Chassy. Like Soon, the University of Illinois professor emeritus has similarly come under fire for his close ties to the controversial agrichemical industry. U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit watchdog group, obtained a jaw-dropping cache of emails through FOIA requests unveiling how Monsanto and its allies not only donated money to professors but also enlisted them to do PR, lobbying and regulatory work for the agrichemical industry.
On September 2015, a stunning exposé from The New York Times on the FOIA emails described how Chassy received money from Monsanto and collaborated with the agrichemical industry's lobbying of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reject a proposal that would tighten the regulations on pesticide-resistant seeds.
Monsanto's Eric Sachs, who leads the company's scientific outreach, emailed Chassy to set up Academics Review, a nonprofit aimed at countering critics of GMOs. "The key" to Academics Review's success will be "keeping Monsanto in the background so as not to harm the credibility of the information," Sachs wrote.
This past March, a WBEZ investigation by Monica Eng uncovered that Monsanto gave Chassy more than $57,000 in two years to help promote, defend and deregulate GMOs through the lobbying of federal officials. Monsanto also made $140,000 in "biotech research and outreach" payments through the University of Illinois Foundation between 2006 and June 2012.
Chassy has harshly criticized the U.S. Right to Know campaign.
The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), the regulatory body for biotechnology in Nigeria, has issued two permits to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited for the commercial release and market placement of genetically modified (GMO) cotton and the confined field trial of GMO maize.
The two permits were signed by NBMA director-general Rufus Ebegba on May 1, which happened to be a public holiday.
Monsanto has received permits from Nigeria's biotechnology regulatory body for its Bt cotton and GMO maize. Photo credit: Flickr
According to the Premium Times, this comes despite assurances from Minister of State for Environment Ibrahim Jibril that “Nigeria would not mortgage the safety of its citizens by introducing unproven products into the country.”
The move has sparked widespread condemnation from 100 organizations representing more than 5 million Nigerians, including farmers, faith-based organizations, civil society groups, students and local community groups.
The coalition has previously expressed concerns about the human health and environmental risks of genetically altered crops. They noted that Monsanto’s genetically enhanced crops are designed to tolerate the use of the herbicide glyphosate which was declared as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in March 2015.
“This is extremely shocking," Nnimmo Bassey, the director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, said in response to the development. "Little wonder officials of NBMA, National Biotech Development Agency (NABDA) and their pro-GMO train have been fighting tooth and nail to fool Nigerians by claiming that GMOs are safe! They approved the poorly concocted applications and issued these permits on a Sunday when government offices do not open. In fact, 2nd May was also a public holiday.”
5 Million Nigerians Oppose Monsanto's Plans to Introduce GMO Cotton and Corn https://t.co/BmMCxzTFMX @NonGMOProject @justlabelit— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1459288839.0
Bassey has been one of the most prominent opponents of genetically modified foods in Nigeria, ever since former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed the National Biosafety Management Bill into law last year, basically opening the doors to GMOs cultivation in the country.
Bassey has accused NBMA's governing board of having GMO proponents such as NABDA and the Biotechnology Society of Nigeria as members.
“Those GMO promoters are concerned with ensuring the profit of biotech entrepreneurs rather than the health and environmental concerns of Nigerians,” he told the Premium Times. “A case in point is that NABDA, a member of the Board of NBMA, is a co-sponsor with Monsanto of the application for the field trials of the GMO maize. We are also appalled that an agency saddled with defending Nigeria’s biodiversity is actively promoting these risky technologies.”
Nigeria's Guardian has published the reasoning behind group's objection to Monsanto's recent permits:
In the objection to Monsanto’s applications, the concerned Nigerians stated that in its application MON 15985, Monsanto is using genes referred to as cry2Ab2 and cry1Ac, which produce Bt toxins that have been synthetically manufactured with no history of safe use in nature.
The insertion of the Antibiotic Resistant Marker Gene (ARMG) causes concerns regarding the potential transfer of antibiotic resistance to other living organisms.
This concern, which is dismissed by the applicant, has been raised by a scientific panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stating that this particular ARMG should be restricted to field trial purposes and should not be present in GM plants to be placed on the market—unfortunately this is what NBMA has released into the Nigerian market.
NMBA's latest action has also provoked the NGO Global Prolife Alliance to call on Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari to dismiss the agency's management and board.
#GMO permits: Group calls for the sacking of the board of Nigeria's biosafety agency https://t.co/Bcp2THcVd7 https://t.co/OOEE57cSnG— GMWatch (@GMWatch)1466016604.0
"The recent actions of the management of the NBMA are clear manifestations of the undue interference by biotechnology firms who dictate the actions of their government regulators," Dr. Philip C. Njemanze, MD, Global Prolife Alliance chairman, said. "These actions of the NBMA are dangerous and unpatriotic. They are in violation of food and environmental safety laws in Nigeria. These actions of NBMA display total incompetence and unprofessionalism by the management, and calls into question their fitness to administer such a crucial job of securing the food security of the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria."
He called the action a "total disregard for the food safety concerns regarding GMOs crops expressed by leading governments around the world, who have had first hand experience with genetically modified maize," pointing to France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Luxemburg, Austria, Hungary and Greece that have banned the same insect-resistant corn variety citing environmental concerns.
Following the intense outcry, Egbeba, the NBMA head, announced at a press conference that no GMO product has been officially released into the Nigerian market yet. He said the agency will be assessing the potential impact of GMOs on human or animal health, the environment as well as its socio-economic impacts before its official release, according to The Leadership.
“The NBMA is poised to effectively regulate modern biotechnology for the benefit of Nigerians and to allay the fears of members of the public who so wish to consume GMOs in Nigeria," the director-general said. "It should be clear that no one would be forced to use or consume GMOs in Nigeria. GMOs would be labelled. The agency bases its decision on science, taking into consideration national interest, socio-economic issues, human health and safety to the environment."
Egbeba also dismissed safety concerns of GMOs, saying that “the controversy surrounding the food and feeds are quite germane. However, suffice it to say that [to] date there is no reliable evidence that GM crops pose any health risk whatsoever. Recent FAO, World Health Organization (WHO) and other credible authorities attest to this. The public should therefore trust the agency’s decisions and avoid unscientific information and acts capable of causing public distrust and panic.”
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