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by Jake Johnson
Despite India's law barring genetically modified (GM) foods from being produced or sold in the country without government approval, a study by the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found that thanks to lax enforcement, a deeply flawed labeling system and corporate deception, Indian supermarkets are inundated with GM foods.
By Pat Thomas
Throughout the U.S., major food brands are trying to get rid of GMO ingredients — not necessarily for the right reasons, but because nearly half of consumers say they avoid them in their food, primarily for health reasons.
But the CEO of Impossible Foods, purveyor of the Impossible Burger, is bucking that trend.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jaydee Hanson
In the foodie world, 2019 might as well be named The Year of the Impossible Burger. This plant-based burger that "bleeds" can now be found on the menus of Burger King, Fatburger, Cheesecake Factory, Red Robin, White Castle and many other national restaurant chains. Consumers praise the burger's meat-like texture and the product is advertised as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional beef burgers.
By Ana Santos Rutschman
The world of food and drug regulation was rocked earlier this month by the news of a change in leadership at the Food and Drug Administration. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb resigned and will step down in early April. His temporary replacement is Dr. Ned Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute.
Promotion of GMO-Derived Impossible Burger at World’s Largest Natural Food Trade Show Denounced as Deceptive
By Stacy Malkan
Amid global debate over the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides such as Monsanto's Roundup, numerous claims have been made to defend the product's safety. In the wake of two recent landmark jury rulings that found Roundup to be a substantial factor in causing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, we examined some of these claims and fact-checked them for accuracy.
By Jane Kolodinsky
There has been substantial debate over whether mandated labels for genetically engineered foods might increase or decrease consumer aversion toward genetic engineering.
By Katie O'Reilly
You've heard of clean tech, but how about a clean buzz? While plenty of microbrewers, craft distillers and boutique wine-makers have in recent years made admirable strides toward greater environmental stewardship, Anheuser-Busch may well succeed in bringing the green-booze movement mainstream.
By Stacy Malkan
The world's largest pesticide and seed companies want you to believe they are on the side of science. High-tech foods are the future, they say, and people who raise concerns about their pesticides and genetically engineered seeds are "anti-science."
The Atlantic magazine will provide a platform to those industry talking points in exchange for corporate cash at a Feb. 15 event titled, "Harvest: Transforming the Food We Eat" sponsored by DowDuPont.
Young—whose tour is promoting his anti-corporate album The Monsanto Years—along with other celebrities and organizations signed the Letter from America, an open letter to the citizens, politicians and regulators in the UK and EU. Based on American experience, the signees testify the potential harmful effects of the UK and EU adopting genetically modified crops.
The letter reads:
We are writing as concerned American citizens to share with you our experience of genetically modified (GM) crops and the resulting damage to our agricultural system and adulteration of our food supply.
In our country, GM crops account for about half of harvested cropland. Around 94% of the soy, 93% of corn (maize) and 96% of cotton grown is GM.
The UK and the rest of the EU have yet to adopt GM crops in the way that we have, but you are currently under tremendous pressure from governments, biotech lobbyists, and large corporations to adopt what we now regard as a failing agricultural technology.
Polls consistently show that 72% of Americans do not want to eat GM foods and over 90% of Americans believe GM foods should be labeled. In spite of this massive public mandate, efforts to get our federal and state governments to better regulate, or simply label, GMOs are being undermined by large biotech and food corporations with unlimited budgets and undue influence.
As you consider your options, we'd like to share with you what nearly two decades of GM crops in the United States has brought us. We believe our experience serves as a warning for what will happen in your countries should you follow us down this road.
"I support the Letter from America because it speaks truth to power, showing the harm GMOs have caused American farms and farmers, our environment, our health and even science and democracy," Young said. "Please take this seriously on behalf of all living things."
The letter is a product of Beyond GM, which aims "to raise the level of the debate on genetically modified organisms in the UK and elsewhere," according to the organization's website.
Glyphosate—the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup—and the continuation of its use in the EU is a hotly debated subject. The European Commission approved an 18-month extension the day before its license was scheduled to end.
Extension was approved even without majority approval from the EU's member states, as reported by EcoWatch.
"This decision by the commission to extend the approval of glyphosate in spite of last week's vote shows a disdain for the opposition by the public and EU governments to this controversial toxic herbicide," Green Party MEP Bart Staes said.
Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis noted that the 18-month extension will allow the European Chemicals Agency to further assess the product's safety.
"As the reckless decision by the EU Commission to overrule all objections and relicense the hazardous chemical glyphosate shows, they and the UK government put corporate profits before the health of citizens and the environment," Lawrence Woodward, Beyond GM's co-director, said. "Only citizens taking action will redress this balance and we are proud to have Neil Young standing with on this."
Glyphosate is the "most widely applied pesticide worldwide," according to a February 2016 report published in Environmental Science Europe. To date, 18.9 billion pounds of glyphosate have been used globally, according to the report. The chemical's use has risen almost 15-fold since "Roundup Ready" genetically engineered crops were introduced in 1996.
Because of its wide use, glyphosate has been a subject of many studies into whether it causes cancer or not. Two major studies, in March 2015 and May 2016, have found contradictory results.
The first study, conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO)'s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), concluded that glyphosate "probably" causes cancer in humans. But the second study, conducted by WHO's Meeting on Pesticide Residues and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, concluded the chemical was "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet."
Greenpeace EU has questioned whether the second report was influenced by industry ties. The organization alleges that Alan Boobis and Angelo Moretto, experts involved in the second study, have ties to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) in Europe, which receiving a majority of its funding from private companies, including Monsanto.
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I have asked repeatedly to have my short interview clip removed from this film. The director refuses. He believes his film is fair and balanced. I do not.
I am often interviewed (see media) and hardly ever quoted incorrectly or out of context. This film is one of those rare exceptions.
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In 2014, Vermont passed the first legislation in the U.S. to require labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. A year earlier, Connecticut and Maine passed GMO labeling bills though these were dependent on several other states passing similar laws.
Best of Democracy: Lawmakers Respond to the People
Passages of these three bills were textbook examples of democracy in action. The states' citizens lobbied their legislatures to introduce the bills, public hearings were held, experts spoke for and against the bills and lawmakers debated the measures. The bills ultimately passed because the lawmakers recognized that the People wanted them approved.
Vermont's bill passed overwhelmingly in both the state's House of Representatives and Senate and Gov. Pete Shumlin signed the bill shortly thereafter.
This is how democracy is supposed to work, right? Citizens see an issue of concern that needs to be addressed and they contact their elected representatives who respond by passing a law. This is what happened in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine.
As Tara Cook-Littman, who spearheaded Connecticut's labeling initiative, said: "GMO labeling is about people taking back power and getting lawmakers to take action in the interests of the people and not corporations. If we don't use our voices it's not democracy. We proved in Connecticut that we do have power and can make democracy work."
Worst of Democracy: Lawmakers Pander to Corporations
Contrast those initiatives with U.S. federal government action on GMO labeling in the past year. Heavy lobbying by large food and agriculture corporations and groups such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association led the U.S. House of Representatives to introduce the Orwellian-named "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act."
The bill, dubbed the "DARK Act" (Deny Americans the Right to Know), aimed to stop Vermont and other state GMO labeling laws and establish a meaningless system of voluntary GMO labeling. The DARK Act passed the House but a similar bill failed to pass the U.S. Senate this past March mainly because the people told their senators to vote against it.
Following the Senate defeat and with Vermont's GMO labeling law set to take effect July 1, Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) drafted a compromise of the DARK Act, making GMO disclosure mandatory and not voluntary as in the House bill. But there was no requirement for an on-package statement as the Vermont law mandated.
Stabenow's compromise essentially snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for labeling supporters because many major food companies were already putting GMO labels on their products sold nationwide to comply with Vermont's law.
The Roberts-Stabenow bill has been described as a "non-labeling GMO labeling bill" since, among its many flaws, it allows food companies to continue their stonewalling of GMO information by putting QR codes on products that can only be read by smartphones. Imagine a busy mother at a supermarket with several children in tow pulling out her smartphone to read QR codes on 20 or 30 food products. Or imagine the many mothers that don't even have smartphones trying to get GMO information. According to marketing communications expert Peter Quinn, the use of QR codes has virtually been abandoned because they have proven to be so ineffective and a "technology wild goose chase."
"Needs of the People Have Been Ignored"
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said: "The Stabenow-Roberts GMO bill is confusing, misleading and unenforceable. It does nothing to make sure consumers know what they're eating."
In contrast to Vermont's GMO labeling bill—the Roberts-Stabenow bill had no hearings, no public input, no committee debate and was rushed to be introduced—and passed in both the Senate and House. Behind the push were Big Food and Ag and their millions of dollars in lobbying.
So while the GMO labeling efforts in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine demonstrated the best of democracy—working for the people as America's founders intended—the Roberts-Stabenow bill showed us the worst of democracy—with its pandering to the narrow interests of big business at the expense of the wishes of the people. And the bill makes the successful democratic efforts in those states null and void.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) said the bill was "not what's in the interests of the American consumer, but what a few special interests want."
With their support for this bad piece of legislation and continued obfuscation of GMOs, Big Food and Ag have assured themselves more years of consumer distrust and targeting by advocacy groups, leading to PR disasters. A few food companies, such as Campbell's and Dannon, have decided that transparency is the best policy, but for many others this may be a tough lesson to learn.
As of July 22, the Roberts-Stabenow GMO labeling bill, S.764, has not yet been signed into law by President Obama but the White House said after Congress passed the bill that he would sign it. More than 80,000 people have petitioned the White House urging Obama to veto the bill. Florida Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan also urged the president to veto the bill. In a letter to Obama, Buchanan called the legislation a "sham bill that pretends to offer disclosure but in truth has so many loopholes that it is meaningless."
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.
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 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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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.
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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While genetically modified (GMO) foods seem to proliferate across the U.S., many other nations do not allow such products to enter or grow within their borders.
Brazil grows 29 varieties of GMO corn while the U.S. grows 43 different types, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. Photo credit: Flickr
A Bloomberg article illustrated how the world's vast patchwork of GMO regulations can deter international trade.
Case in point, even though the Brazilian chicken industry is suffering from a domestic corn shortage this year, companies refuse to buy corn from the U.S. because of Brazil’s stringent regulations on GMOs.
"In recent years, some of the largest commodity trading companies have refused to take certain GMO crops from farmers because the seeds used hadn’t received a full array of global approvals, something that can lead to holdups at ports or even the rejection of entire cargoes," the article stated.
Brazil happens to be the second largest producer of GMO crops in the world after the U.S., and grows 29 varieties of GMO corn. However, the South American country has had a contentious history over GMOs and does not allow certain varieties to enter the country—the U.S. cultivates 43 types of GMO corn. Brazil also mandates that all products containing GMO ingredients carry a label and, earlier this year, the Brazilian Ministry of Justice fined major food manufacturers including Nestle, PepsiCo and a Mexican baking company for concealing the presence of GMOs in their products.
Brazil, the world biggest exporter of chicken and grain traders, is now considering whether to request approval from the government to import GMO crops that aren’t currently permitted, Bloomberg reported.
Bloomberg's article highlights the international divisiveness over genetically altered food and the agri-tech industry, a reflection of general consumer and political unease over the safety and environmental concerns of GMOs and the pesticides they are designed to resist.
In the graphic below, the Genetic Literacy Project listed a dizzying mix of countries that have either banned or allowed GMO food cultivation or imports. The group also noted that the vast majority of genetically altered crops come from only a dozen nations that allow cultivation: the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa, Uruguay, Bolivia and the Philippines.
India received 250,000 tonnes of non-GMO corn from South Korea’s Daewoo International via Ukraine, however as experts warned to Reuters, it is difficult to ensure that the supply is 100 percent non-GMO, sparking fears of GMO contamination.
It only takes a few GMO seeds to mix with local varieties to enter India’s food supply chain, an Indian government scientist explained.
“The biggest risk of accepting anything less than 99, or 100, percent is that the imported GM corn may eventually get mixed with conventional seeds that farmers sow in India,” the scientist, who asked to not be named, told Reuters. “If, God forbid, any GM seed gets mixed here, it’ll spoil the entire Indian agriculture.”
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In the letter, Greenpeace is accused of leading "the fact-challenged propaganda campaign against innovations in agricultural biotechnology." The NGO's opposition on a particularly controversial GMO crop, golden rice, was put on blast.
Golden Rice, compared to conventional rice, has been genetically engineered to produce and accumulate provitamin A (β-carotene) in the grain.Golden Rice Project
In a separate post Why Greenpeace is Wrong about GMOs and Golden Rice, the campaign accuses Greenpeace of spearheading "opposition to golden rice, which has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which has the greatest impact on the poorest people in Africa and Southeast Asia."
The laureates' letter argues that scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have "repeatedly and consistently" found GMO crops as safe for humans and animals for consumption as well as for the safety of the environment.
Organizers of the campaign held a press conference this morning at the National Press Conference in Washington to defend the letter.
"We're scientists. We understand the logic of science. It's easy to see what Greenpeace is doing is damaging and is anti-science," Richard Roberts, campaign organizer and the 1993 winner of the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Phillip Sharp, told The Washington Post."Greenpeace initially, and then some of their allies, deliberately went out of their way to scare people. It was a way for them to raise money for their cause."
The golden rice project started roughly 20 years ago by German researchers. The GMO crop is developed to produce pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene) and is touted by proponents as a solution to vitamin A deficiencies prevalent in developing countries. The deficiency increases risk for infection, diseases and blindness.
Greenpeace, however, has deemed the golden rice project as "environmentally irresponsible, poses risks to human health, and could compromise food, nutrition and financial security." Because of this stance, proponents of golden rice have long attacked the organization for being "anti-science" and prolonging the suffering of children with VAD.
In response to the letter, Wilhelmina Pelegrina, a campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia told The Post that the organization was not blocking golden rice, as the initiative "has failed as a solution and isn't currently available for sale, even after more than 20 years of research."
"As admitted by the International Rice Research Institute, it has not been proven to actually address vitamin A deficiency. So to be clear, we are talking about something that doesn't even exist," she continued. "Corporations are overhyping golden rice to pave the way for global approval of other more profitable genetically engineered crops. Rather than invest in this overpriced public relations exercise, we need to address malnutrition through a more diverse diet, equitable access to food and eco-agriculture."
She argues that the "only guaranteed solution" to fix malnutrition is a diverse, healthy diet: "Providing people with real food based on ecological agriculture not only addresses malnutrition, but is also a scaleable solution to adapt to climate change."
Pelegrina said that Greenpeace has documented communities across the Philippines that continue to express concerns about using golden rice as a solution. In the video below produced by the organization in 2014, Filipino community members speak about solutions to nutrient deficiencies that are already available in their country.
The use of genetically modified technology is highly contentious in the Philippines. In 2013, a group of about 400 protesters, which included local farmers and members of two anti-GMO groups—the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bikol (KMB) and the Sararong Inisyatiba nin Kahinwanmaan sa Wasakon ang Agrokemikals na Lasong-GMO (Sikwal-GMO)—destroyed an 800 square meter trial plot of golden rice that was weeks away from being sent to the authorities for a safety evaluation. The protesters said they uprooted and trampled the rice plants because they wanted to protect the health of the people and their environment.
"Greenpeace Philippines is already working with NGO partners and farmers in the Philippines to boost climate resiliency," Pelegrina said. "There's a real chance here for governments and the philanthropic community to support these endeavours by investing in climate-resilient ecological agriculture and empowering farmers to access a balanced and nutritious diet, rather than pouring money down the drain for GE 'golden' rice."
Incidentally, a Washington University study published last month in the journal Agriculture & Human Values argues that the benefits of biotechnology, particularly golden rice, may be overhyped.
Washington University anthropologist Glenn Stone and Dominic Glover, a rice researcher at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex, argue in their paper that GMO activists should not be blamed for the slow introduction of golden rice.
"The rice simply has not been successful in test plots of the rice breeding institutes in the Philippines, where the leading research is being done," Stone told the university publication. "It has not even been submitted for approval to the regulatory agency, the Philippine Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI)."
Stone argues that the golden rice 2013 protest did not have any significant impact on the approval of the crop.
"Destroying test plots is a dubious way to express opposition, but this was only one small plot out of many plots in multiple locations over many years," he said. "Moreover, they have been calling golden rice critics 'murderers' for over a decade."
Although the Philippine Supreme Court recently issued a temporary suspension of GMO crop trials, which could definitely impact GMO crop development, Stone pointed out that "it's hard to blame the lack of success with golden rice on this recent action."
"Golden rice was a promising idea backed by good intentions," Stone said. "In contrast to anti-GMO activists, I argued that it deserved a chance to succeed. But if we are actually interested in the welfare of poor children—instead of just fighting over GMOs—then we have to make unbiased assessments of possible solutions. The simple fact is that after 24 years of research and breeding, Golden Rice is still years away from being ready for release."
Stone also said the Philippines has managed to slash the incidence of vitamin A deficiency by non-GMO methods.
Ken Roseboro, the editor and publisher of The Organic & Non-GMO Report and The Non-GMO Sourcebook, agrees that the failure of golden rice is not due to anti-GMO campaigns and that conventional agriculture presents viable solutions to VAD.
"As Glenn Davis Stone of Washington University recently documented, golden rice is failing, not because of activists attempts to block it, but to poor performance in field trials," Roseboro explained to EcoWatch via email. "Meanwhile, corn varieties with higher levels of vitamin A developed using non-GMO breeding methods are being grown in Africa and helping to address vitamin A deficiency there. But the press ignores this solution in favor of the failed techno-fix of golden rice."
He continued, "to say that GM crops are extensively tested is also not true since the FDA doesn't require safety testing of new GM crops and allows crop developers to voluntarily submit such safety data."
"What this letter shows is that even Nobel Prize scientists don't know, or don't want to know, since they take money from Monsanto and their minions, anything about the obvious human health, environmental and climate damage inflicted by GMOs, and the toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers that always accompany them," Cummins told EcoWatch via email. "This is a perfect example of why the global grassroots have lost all faith in the bought and sold scientific, corporate and political establishment."
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Three generations of women attended Monsanto's shareholder meeting Friday and presented multiple reasons why Monsanto should mitigate risks from Roundup, support labeling of genetically-engineered foods and change the direction of their business.
Anne Temple, mother and midwest leader of Moms Across America representing John Harrington of Harrington Investments, went to the meeting with Rachel Parent, 16-year-old and founder of Kids Right to Know from Canada who representing Moms Across America, and Beth Savitt, grandmother and president of the Shaka Movement of Maui representing and As You Sow.
“Our loved ones are getting sick and dying at alarming rates," Temple said at the shareholder meeting. "We find however that our families' health improves when they eat organic to avoid GMOs and toxic chemicals."
In fact, Moms Across America posted this billboard in west St. Louis County, Missouri, in Creve Coeur, near Monsanto headquarters, stating just that:
At the shareholder meeting, Parent explained that “nearly two decades after genetically engineered crops have been incorporated into our food, no long-term human health studies have been performed. However, feeding studies have been done on animals and the results are sobering: organ damage, digestive disorders, tumors, infertility and stillbirths."
Then Savitt pointed out that “the president's cancer panel of 2008 recommended the precautionary principle in relation to pesticides. Can we stop and test? Can we practice the hippocratic oath and first do no harm? That's all we are asking for."
Savitt's Shaka Movement passed a GMO moratorium in Maui, requiring that the planting of GMOs stop until safety testing is concluded that shows the chemical combinations used were safe. Monsanto spent more than $9 million to fight the passing of the moratorium, far more than would have been spent on the testing. The moratorium passed anyway, but a local judge overturned the law. Currently, an appeal is in process. The concern by the three women is that in the meantime, Monsanto is allowed to continue to poison our food, water and planet.
Savitt insists, “Maui is an open air experiment and the land and people are paying a price, our health. We assert our right to health."
John Harrington of Harrington Investments said, “It's truly amazing to me that Monsanto is allowed to continue endangering public health and safety."
The choices of Monsanto are not without repercussions, however. Monsanto has experienced heavy losses over the past year due to several factors including:
1. The increase of more than 250 super weeds on 300 million acres resisting Roundup
3. Growing consumer resistance
Although considered safe for nearly 40 years, serious evidence regarding the health risks of glyphosate in Roundup has recently surfaced, including the destruction of the gut bacteria which leads to a weakened immune system, neurotoxicity, hormone disrupting effects which can lead to endocrine disruption (birth defects and miscarriage) at very low levels, non Hodgkin's Lymphoma, breast cancer cell growth and placental cell death.
These three women went to the shareholder meeting because they do not see how Monsanto can ignore the risks associated with Roundup and knowingly continue down a path that will lead to decreased profit margins and job loss.
During the shareholder meeting, Monsanto CEO and board chair Hugh Grant extolled the virtues of GMOs and glyphosate, declaring them safe and the tools needed to solve the problem of feeding a hungry world.
Parent, who has been speaking up for GMO labels since she was 11 years old, said, “If you truly believe your GM technology is safe, if you truly believe it has the potential to feed the world, why are you treating it like a dirty little secret that can't be shown on food labels? Why, if it's such proven technology, are you fighting it, rather than promoting it?"
Grant went on to say that Monsanto is for voluntary GMO labeling and supports QR codes.
Temple pointed out that the QR code option is “discriminatory because not everyone can afford a smartphone."
Listen here to the full recording of the meeting:
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