This Law Would Make It Illegal for Any State to Mandate GMO Labeling
As the vitriol intensifies in what passes for debate over the safety of genetically modified foods, scientific inquiry, thankfully, continues. A Tufts researcher, Sheldon Krimsky, recently published his assessment of the last seven years of peer-reviewed evidence, finding 26 studies that “reported adverse effects or uncertainties of GMOs fed to animals.”
If recent history is any indication, Sheldon Krimsky should expect to be slammed as a “science denier.”
The current vehemence is the product of a well-funded campaign to “depolarize” the GMO debate through “improved agricultural biotechnology communication,” in the words of the Gates Foundation-funded Cornell Alliance for Science. And it is reaching a crescendo because of the march of the Orwellian “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015” (code-named “SAFE” for easy and confusing reference) through the U.S. House of Representatives on July 23 on its way to a Senate showdown in the fall.
In an April New York Times op-ed, Alliance for Science affiliate Mark Lynas follows the party line, accusing environmentalists of “undermining public understanding of science,” even more than climate deniers and vaccine opponents. Slate’s William Saletan goes further in his July feature, calling those who want GMO labeling “an army of quacks and pseudo-environmentalists waging a leftist war on science.”
Who would have known that depolarization could feel so polarizing—and so stifling of scientific inquiry.
Precaution and the Public’s Right to Know What We Eat
The SAFE law sounds like it promises what polls suggest 99 percent of Americans want, accurate labeling of foods with GMO ingredients. It likely guarantees that no such thing will ever happen.
Backed by biotech and food industry associations, SAFE would make it illegal for states to enact mandatory GMO labeling laws. It would instead establish a “voluntary” GMO labeling program that pretty well eviscerates the demand for the right to know what’s in our food. It would undercut the many state level efforts.
Vermont now has a labeling law that survived industry opposition, threats and a court challenge, which may explain why the industry got busy in Congress. If you can’t beat democracy, change it. The Senate is expected to take up the bill after its August recess.
As written, SAFE is truly the labeling law to end all labeling laws.
The biotech industry is acting desperate for a reason. It’s seen Europe and most of the world close its regulatory doors to GMO crops, for now, insisting on the same “precautionary principle” enshrined in the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. That principle calls for a relatively high level of precaution before the introduction of a new technology, to avoid the kinds of unintended consequences that have caused such harm in the past: tobacco, thalidomide, DDT, PCBs and other cases of industry-backed claims of safety that, in retrospect, proved deadly.
Not SAFE for Science
In a sane world that respects scientific inquiry, we would be engaged in a debate about the appropriate levels of precaution that we as a society want for a technology as novel as genetic engineering. That would be constructive, not to mention depolarizing.
Instead, we get pundits like Lynas and Saletan tarring anyone who dares call for precaution with the stain of being another science-denying zealot who ignores the scientific evidence that no one has been harmed by all the GMO foods consumed in the U.S.
To reinforce how duped or dumb the American public is, they point to a Pew Institute poll indicating that 88 percent of scientists think GMO foods are safe, while just 37 percent of the public thinks so. The gap is repeatedly cited as a measure of how science-deniers are winning the public relations battle and how ignorant the U.S. people are on the issue.
Maybe not. Is it really a surprise that nearly nine in ten scientists think a new invention is good for society? Not really. As Joel Achenbach explained in his otherwise good piece on science denial in National Geographic, we all suffer from “confirmation bias,” the tendency to interpret information in ways that confirm our existing beliefs. True enough and guess what group scores high for confirmation bias in favor of new technology? Scientists. Honestly, I’m shocked that 12 percent of scientists think GMO food isn’t safe.
What about that skeptical public? Are they really just ignorant and brainwashed? Or is their confirmation bias perhaps informed by their repeated experiences with big corporations telling them something is safe or good for them and finding out it’s deadly. Who in the U.S. has not lost a family member or friend to smoking-related disease? Given the negligence of U.S. regulatory authorities in accepting industry claims of safety, is the public really so foolish to be skeptical, of both industry and government?
Washington University’s Glenn Stone drove the scientific point home nicely about how long the process of scientific discovery of hazards can be. He documents how DDT was suspected as a cause of breast cancer but studies kept failing to find a link. This is, until 2007, when an intrepid researcher thought to ask if girls exposed to DDT during puberty had a higher risk of breast cancer. More than half a century after they were exposed, she found what no one else had: a five times greater risk in such girls and a significant additional risk in their female children.
On GMOs and labeling, Stone asks if all the evidence is really in just 20 years into this experiment. Are there comparable studies of GMO effects on pregnant or lactating women and developing infants and children? No, there are not.
No Consensus on Food Safety
For those still willing to look past the campaign slogans and slurs, science is still happening. My colleague at Tufts University, Sheldon Krimsky, examined peer-reviewed journal articles from 2008-2014. Contrary to the claims of consensus, he found 26 studies that showed significant cause for concern in animal studies, among many studies that showed no harm.
He identified clear evidence that proteins transferred into the genome of another plant species can generate allergic reactions even when the original transgene did not, a scientific finding that undermines industry claims that the transgenic process creates no instability in the genome. (Scientists even have a name for such a gene: an “intrinsically disordered protein)."
Krimsky found eight reviews of the literature and they showed anything but consensus. Three cited cause for concern from existing animal studies. Two found inadequate evidence of harm that could affect humans, justifying the U.S. government’s principle that if GMO crops are “substantially equivalent” to their non-GMO counterparts, this is adequate to guarantee safety. Three reviews suggested that the evidence base is limited, the types of studies that have been done are inadequate to guarantee safety even if they show no harm and further study and improved testing is warranted.
What about the much-cited consensus among medical and scientific associations? Krimsky found no such agreement, just the same kind of wide variation in opinion, which he usefully ascribes to differing standards, methods and goals, not ignorance or brainwashing.
Krimsky goes out of his way, however, to document the industry-backed campaigns to discredit two scientific studies that found cause for concern and he warns of the anti-science impact such campaigns can have. “When there is a controversy about the risk of a consumer product, instead of denying the existence of certain studies, the negative results should be replicated to see if they hold up to rigorous testing.”
That would have been a refreshing and depolarizing, industry response to the recent World Health Organization finding that Roundup Ready herbicides are a “probable human carcinogen.” Instead of calling for further study to determine safe exposure levels, the industry called out its attack dogs to discredit the study.
Who here is really anti-science?
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By Karen Charman
When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot's plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State's worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.
Foxes Guarding the Henhouse<p>Before he assumed power, Trump attacked regulations as unnecessary barriers to freedom and economic prosperity. Since taking office, he has targeted anything enacted by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and taken steps to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, the international effort to combat climate change. He has also staffed heads of key agencies with climate deniers of various stripes, forced out career public servants and created a hostile work environment for those who don't profess loyalty to his deregulatory agenda.</p><p>Like Trump himself, some of his cabinet choices displayed an audacious penchant for <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/27/us/donald-trump-taxes.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage" target="_blank">self-dealing</a> and abusing their positions of authority. One example is Trump's first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Scott Pruitt, who aggressively worked to overturn Obama's climate regulations, spent most of his time in <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-epa-head-steps-down-after-wave-of-ethics-management-scandals/2018/07/05/39f4251a-6813-11e8-bea7-c8eb28bc52b1_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">private meetings</a> with fossil fuel and chemical company executives, sidelined career EPA staff and reconfigured independent scientific advisory boards to make them more supportive of the industries EPA is charged with regulating. Dubbed "<a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-pruitt-leaves-20180705-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">one of the most scandal-plagued Cabinet officials in U.S. history</a>," Pruitt resigned in disgrace after revelations about his multiple brazen abuses, including using the agency as his personal concierge service and piggy bank.</p><p>Pruitt's deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/andrew-wheeler-acting-epa-administrator-former-number-two-before-scott-pruitt-resignation/" target="_blank">former coal industry lobbyist</a> and longtime Republican Washington insider, took over and has continued Trump's deregulatory agenda apace.</p><p>At the Department of Interior (DOI), a sprawling agency that oversees 75 percent of the country's public federal lands and includes the U.S. Geological Survey, which is tasked with evaluating natural hazards that threaten life and the health of our ecosystems, Trump installed another flamboyant anti-environmentalist to head the agency. Like Pruitt, Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke aggressively attacked environmental regulations, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/05/07/epa-dismisses-half-of-its-scientific-advisers-on-key-board-citing-clean-break-with-obama-administration/" target="_blank">ditched more than 200 advisory panels</a>, and pushed to open up vast swaths of public land to oil and gas drilling. Described by one environmental group as "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/interior-secretary-zinke-resigns-amid-investigations/2018/12/15/481f9104-0077-11e9-ad40-cdfd0e0dd65a_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the most anti-conservation Interior secretary in our nation's history</a>," Zinke was forced out after numerous highly publicized conflict-of-interest scandals.</p><p>The DOI is now run by Zinke's deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, another longtime Republican Washington insider and former oil industry lobbyist who has also been the subject of <a href="https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/05/this-is-still-happening-david-bernhardt-trump-lincoln.html" target="_blank">several government ethics complaints</a> for various violations favoring polluting industries.</p><p>More recently, longtime climate change denier David Legates, a climatologist at the University of Delaware previously <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/19032015/u-delaware-refuses-disclose-funding-sources-its-climate-contrarian" target="_blank">funded by fossil fuel interests</a>, was hired for a <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/12/912301325/longtime-climate-science-denier-hired-at-noaa" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">top job</a> advancing weather modeling and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Legates has called for <a href="https://www.democracynow.org/2020/9/18/noaa_david_legates_climate_crisis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increasing carbon emissions</a>.</p><p>The Trump administration has done much more than stack government agencies with fossil fuel industry proponents. It has removed or diluted discussion of climate change from as many government platforms as it can and decimated independent scientific advisory boards that provide unbiased, fact-based information the government needs to enact policies that protect the public. It has also <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/482352-trump-budget-slashes-funding-for-epa-environmental-programs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">slashed environmental agency staffing and budgets</a>.</p>
The Damage So Far<p>A September 17 <a href="https://rhg.com/research/the-rollback-of-us-climate-policy/" target="_blank">report</a> by the Rhodium Group calculates that 1.8 billion tons more greenhouse gases will be released over the next 15 years as a result of climate change rollbacks the Trump administration has achieved so far. These include repealing Obama's main climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce dirty emissions from power plants; increasing pollution from cars by rolling back fuel economy standards and challenging California's longtime authority to set stricter emissions standards; targeting controls on hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigerators and air conditioners that also destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer; and allowing unreported and unregulated emissions of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, by oil and gas companies.</p><p>Besides these measures, Trump is also trying to gut core environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, all of which were enacted to protect human health and preserve a livable world.</p><p>The Paris agreement aims to keep the rise in average global temperatures at less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and hopefully cap it at 1.5 degrees C or lower. We are now at approximately 1.2 degrees C and counting.</p>
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By Jan Ellen Spiegel
It wasn't so long ago that the issue of climate change was poised to play a huge – possibly even a decisive – role in the 2020 election, especially in the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Many people supporting Democratic candidates saw a possible Democratic majority as a hedge against a potential Trump re-election … a way to plug the firehose spray of more than 100 environmental regulation rollbacks and new anti-climate initiatives by the administration over its first term.
Potential Climate Voters<p>In a September 1 memo on climate and the election, Andrew Baumann, vice president of the consultants Global Strategy Group, wrote: "Few issues have seen as dramatic a shift in public opinion as climate change has over the last few years. Only marriage equality and the recent shift in views around racial justice outpace the rapid growth in the salience of climate change as an issue."</p><p>Calling it a "winning political issue" the memo says: "First, it is clearly a motivator for both younger and Latinx voters. Second, it has the power to move swing voters, particularly center-right white women."</p><p>Baumann points to a finding that when a group of such women were asked generic ballot questions, Democrats trailed by nine percentage points. But when the question was revised as a choice between:</p><p>"A Democrat who supports taking strong government action to combat climate change.<br>A Republican who opposes taking strong government action to combat climate change."</p><p>… the result was a 29 percentage point shift, putting Democrats ahead by 20 percentage points among that same group.</p><p>"I think it is playing a role," says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, a longtime outspoken climate activist who is on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and also on the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. If Democrats win back the Senate, he stands to play an even more pivotal climate role as part of the majority. He is not up for re-election this year.</p><p><span></span>"I think from the Democratic side it's playing a role in generating enthusiasm – particularly making younger voters feel that they have a real stake in this election. On the Republican side, I think things have moved enough that candidates can no longer get away with simply scoffing about climate change."</p>
Climate a Top Concern for Youths, Latinx<p>So who's still thinking climate? Mostly young voters – 18 to 25 or 29 and Latinx voters.</p><p>Climate and the environment are the top concern among young voters, just above racism and healthcare according to <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CIRCLE</a>, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, which focuses on the political life of young people in the U.S. For Latinx youth, it drops a bit but remains in the top three.</p><p>The issues young people care about have an impact on how they volunteer their time, says Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at CIRCLE. He says that's played out most notably through the Sunrise Movement, which focuses on climate change and the environment along with other key activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives.</p><p>He points to polling this summer that showed that 83% of 18-to-29-year-olds felt they had the power to change things. "Young people feel much more empowerment than in 2016 and 2018," Lundberg says. "It's intentional these movements are carving out space for young people. It's an important strategy."</p><p>In positions of power in these organizations, young people have developed peer-to-peer outreach on activism. And Lundberg says young people have made the leap that connects activism to voting as a lever for change. "In the past in very close races, young people breaking heavily have provided the margin of victory," he says.</p><p>CIRCLE is highlighting 10 U.S. Senate races as ones in which young voters can be decisive. Several of them have notable climate or environmental components – most prominently the Colorado and Montana races.</p><p>The Republican incumbents in each state – Cory Gardner in Colorado and Steve Daines in Montana – are running against a popular Democratic governor – John Hickenlooper in Colorado, now out of office — and Steve Bullock, still the governor of Montana. Both governors have had to balance their state's fossil fuel economic interests with supporting climate change solutions.</p>
Tying Climate Change to the Economy<p>In August, Data for Progress, a progressive research think tank, released polling on climate change – including in the battleground Senate elections in Arizona, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina – showing voters back a Senate candidate supporting strong climate action.</p><blockquote>Climate change as 'mobilizing issue … key persuasion issue.'<br></blockquote><p>It also showed that linking climate change to the economy may be key. That means talking about clean energy and jobs together, says Danielle Deiseroth, climate data analyst for <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank">Data for Progress</a>. She says that in addition to jobs, climate change issues include climate justice and economic equality – both of heightened interest because of fallout from western wildfires.</p><p>"Climate change, we've observed over the last year or so, is a key mobilizing issue and a key persuasion issue," she says. "Climate issues can only grow support for Democratic candidates.</p><p>"I think it's pretty naive to say climate is the key issue for voters. For a lot of voters it really exemplifies so many things that are wrong with the Trump presidency," Deiseroth says.</p><p>So a factor among others. Helpful, but pivotal only in narrow circumstances.</p><p>At the League of Conservations Voters, a progressive environmentalist organization putting a lot of money and effort into the 2020 races, Senior Director of Political Affairs Craig Auster says: "I'll push back that climate change doesn't matter or isn't registering."</p><p>"It's still showing up in several Senate races. It's been playing a role in almost all of them."</p><p>Candidates are still talking about it, he says, pointing to Colorado, Montana, Iowa, and other states where ads are addressing climate and environmental issues. That shows the candidates believe their opponent is vulnerable on the issue or they're strong on it, he says.</p><p>Like others, Auster calls climate a motivator.</p><p>"Climate change matters," he says. "We have proof point after proof point about what's happening, whether it's a hurricane, a superstorm, derechos in Iowa, or wildfires out west.</p><p>"Pre-COVID it was top tier for Democratic voters along with healthcare. If COVID didn't happen I think climate would be a big deal."</p>
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By Gudrun Heise
Just as scientists are scoring successes in coronavirus research, new problems are on their way. Fall is with us and winter is around the corner, so the season for colds and flu has begun — joining COVID-19.
Influenza Vaccination<p>A flu vaccination may thus be able to narrow down the diagnostic options when flu-like symptoms occur, but whether such a vaccination also has an influence on the behavior of the dangerous new virus is — like so much else — not clear. "It is conceivable that there is an indirect effect. But it is, I believe, a matter of speculation whether it has an immunological effect in the narrower sense," says Krause.</p><p>Every winter, doctors' waiting rooms are full of people who are coughing and sniffing but who mostly turn out to have only a severe respiratory infection. According to current knowledge, the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, is also likely to be subject to seasonal fluctuations. </p><p>In winter, cold viruses, at least, flourish because cold and dry air offers ideal conditions for their spread. In addition, it becomes more difficult to air rooms regularly and intensively — an important further measure to counteract the coronavirus and contain to some extent the danger posed by aerosols.</p><p>According to the <a href="https://www.rki.de/DE/Home/homepage_node.html" target="_blank">Robert Koch Institute, Germany's public health agency</a>, between 5% and 20% of people in Germany become infected with flu viruses every year. These viruses are also dangerous and can be fatal. The flu vaccination must be adapted to the influenza viruses every year, because they mutate. But at least there is a vaccination.</p><p>Most experts agree that there is unlikely to be a vaccine against the coronavirus by the time the next wave of influenza comes around. And even if a vaccine were to be approved, many unknowns remain.</p>
COVID-19 and Flu Simultaneously<p>For example, there is a lack of practical experience in dealing simultaneously with SARS-CoV-2 and influenza. It is possible to speculate that having influenza could facilitate the entry of the coronavirus into the human body. "The general weakening of the immune system during an influenza infection could increase the susceptibility of a patient to a SARS-CoV-2 infection," Krause says.</p><p>However, it is uncertain how dangerous this double infection could ultimately be and what can be done about it. Krause is of the opinion that we must arm ourselves against all three diseases — colds, flu and COVID-19. If we have a cold, bed rest, hot tea and cough medicine usually help. We can get vaccinated against flu. But how do we deal with COVID-19?</p><p><span></span>Probably people can only hope that if they get the illness, they will have a mild form with as few after-effects as possible. Here, it will certainly help to stick to suggested rules on hygiene to reduce or prevent our exposure to the virus. In an interview with DW, Bonn-based virology professor Hendrik Streeck made it clear that COVID-19 usually takes a more severe course when there is a high viral load at infection.</p>
Hygiene, Hygiene, Hygiene<p>The same hygiene measures with which we are trying to get at least some kind of grip on COVID-19 also apply to influenza. The less we come into contact with viruses, the greater the chance that we will be spared an infection or that it will be mild.</p><p>These measures include general hygiene precautions such as frequent hand washing and the wearing of protective face masks. "The various hygienic measures against COVID-19 will also reduce the spread of influenza," says Krause. "Possibly, further connections of a more immunological nature will be discovered."</p><p>Let us hope that is the case, because the flu season hasn't even started.</p>
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