Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The BioTech Industry Thinks We're Stupid

At a time when more Americans then ever before want to know more about their food - where it is grown, what it contains, how it is produced - the FDA's recent decision to approve GMO salmon, which will be available for sale in the U.S. in 2-3 years, seems completely and utterly ridiculous. Coupled with the statisics that show industrialized agriculture is being criticized, farmers markets are popping up everywhere and organic food is one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry, it makes you wonder what the FDA is thinking (and question if they live in a cave completely oblivious to the outside world with the possible exception of Big Ag). This landmark decision approved the first GMO animal to be consumed by humans in the U.S. And it scares me to death!

The FDA flat-out refuses to even consider labeling genetically altered food. In the case of the GMO salmon, the FDA says it cannot require a label on the GM food once it determines that the fish is not "materially" different from other salmon. The FDA defends its approach, saying it is simply following the law, which prohibits misleading labels on food. And the fact that a food, in this case salmon, is produced through a different process, is not sufficient to require a label.

Not only does the FDA refuse to allow labeling of GMO foods, they are also restricting conventional food makers from stating on their labels that their products do not contain any genetically modified ingredients.

The biotechnology industry is opposed to mandatory labeling, saying it will only bewilder a public that is not well informed about genetic engineering. "Extra labeling only confuses the consumer," said David Edwards, director of animal biotechnology at the Biotechnology Industry Organization. "It differentiates products that are not different. As we stick more labels on products that don't really tell us anything more, it makes it harder for consumers to make their choices."

In the European Union and Japan, it is nearly impossible to find genetically modified foods, largely because laws require labeling, said William K. Hallman, director of the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers University. "No one wants to carry products with such a label," he said. "The food companies figure that consumers won't buy it." There is nothing to stop salmon producers or food makers in the United States from voluntarily labeling their products as genetically engineered - except a fear of rejection in the marketplace, Hallman said. And David Edwards thinks consumers are confused.

Ever since the FDA approved the first genetically altered material for use in food in 1992, when Monsanto developed a synthetic hormone injected into cows to increase milk production, the agency has held that it cannot require food producers to label products as genetically engineered. In the intervening years, the use of genetically engineered crops has skyrocketed - 93% of this year's soybean crop is genetically engineered, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Byproducts of those crops - soy lecithin, for example - are found in thousands of processed foods from chocolate bars to breakfast cereal. None is labeled as containing genetically modified ingredients.

The recent approval of GM salmon has consumer advocates worried about labeling for genetically engineered beef, pork and other fish which will soon be lined up for federal approval. The AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon has been given a gene from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish, and a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon. This particular salmon grows twice as fast as it's conventionally grown counterpart. Those of you looking to buy salmon will have a tough time picking out the conventional fish from the one created with genes from another species. You could be certain of getting the non-modified version if you bought salmon labeled as "wild," but most salmon consumed in the U.S. is farmed.

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