Recently, there has been a major upheaval at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) with the resignation of two of its advisors. This happened in light of accusations that the FSA is about to waste £500,000 of tax payers’ money on what is essentially a propaganda exercise designed to promote Genetically Modified foods.
Last week, the vice-chairman of the steering group – that was set up by the FSA to gauge opinion on Genetically Modified foods – Professor Brian Wynne, resigned, complaining that the FSA had adopted a “dogmatically entrenched”, pro-GM attitude.
This follows the resignation of Dr Helen Wallace, the Director of GeneWatch UK, who withdrew her membership of the FSA Steering Group for the Genetically Modification (GM) dialogue, on 26 May 2010. In her letter of resignation, Dr. Wallace said that it had become clear to her that the purpose of the FSA process was nothing more than a PR exercise on behalf of the GM industry.
Frankenstein foods back on the shelves
At present, no Genetically Modified crops are commercially grown in the UK. The previous UK Labour government was nervous of promoting Genetically Modified foods because of its fear of a renewed public backlash against “Frankenstein foods”. However, it looks as if all of this is about to change…
In her first interview, Caroline Spelman – Secretary of State for the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs – committed the new coalition to becoming the most pro-GM government yet, saying she was in favour of GM foods “in the right circumstances” and that it could “bring benefits in food to the marketplace”.
The government should take note on Genetically Modified foods and developments across the pond.
Genetically Modified foods can now be found in up to 70 per cent of processed foods in supermarkets in the US – and in increasing amounts in many other countries. The first commercially grown genetically modified whole food crop was a type of tomato, which was modified to ripen without softening and was approved for release in the US in 1994.
However, the method of ‘engineering’ genes from unrelated species into food crops is far from precise.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has warned the public to avoid Genetically Modified foods. In a statement the AAEM said, “There is more than a casual association between Genetically Modified foodss and adverse health effects. There is causation”.
A large number of studies and incidents have implicated Genetically Modified foods in a wide variety of health problems, including accelerated ageing, immune dysfunction, insulin disorders, organ damage and reproductive disruption.
Animals consuming crops that have been genetically modified to produce the pesticide Bt (approved for human consumption in the US) have died by the thousands, while animals grazing on non-Genetically Modified versions of the same crops remained unharmed. Autopsies, revealed black patches in the animals’ livers and intestines, internal bleeding and other signs of Bt poisoning. Farm workers in India have begun developing allergic reactions upon handling Bt corn, similar to the effects experienced by people exposed to Bt spraying.
In addition to these risks, GM soy and corn contain significantly higher concentrations of allergens than unmodified varieties. Evidence also suggests that the genetic abnormalities of GM foods may transfer to bacteria in the human gut, thereby exposing people to their detrimental effects long after a food has been consumed.
Yet in spite of all this evidence and the prevalence of GM crops in the US food supply, not a single clinical trial of any Genetically Modified crop has ever been published.
“The experiments simply haven’t been done and we now have become the guinea pigs,” said Canadian geneticist David Suzuki. “Anyone that says, ‘Oh, we know that this is perfectly safe,’ I say is either unbelievably stupid or deliberately lying”.
The threat is real
In the EU, if a food contains or consists of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), it must be indicated on the label.
The European Union is to radically overhaul its approval system for genetically modified (GM) crops from next month, opening the way to large-scale GM cultivation in Europe.
Public opposition to Genetically Modified foods within the EU saw one of its main proponents, Monsanto, pull out of the European seed cereal business in 2003.
This controversial company manufactures 90 per cent of all Genetically Modified foods in the world.
Monsanto’s first commercial product was the artificial sweetener saccharin – a synthetic, white crystalline powder, which, in its commercial state is 350 times as sweet as sucrose. It has no nutritional value and is not easily digested by the body.
In March 1977, an animal study to test the toxicity of saccharin produced an excess of bladder tumours in male rats. As a result the US National Toxicology Programme elected to put saccharin on its ‘cancer causing’ list – formally declaring it an ‘anticipated human carcinogen.’ Cyclamate, an earlier version, was banned in 1970 for similar reasons.
Since saccharin, Monsanto has given the world aspirin, rubber, plastic and the development of the first nuclear weapons. Through numerous spin-offs and mergers, Monsanto also stood behind products such as aspartame (NutraSweet) – linked to everything from memory loss to joint pain; Celebrex (the controversial arthritis drug linked to heart problems); and chemicals that are hazardous to the environment called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB).
In 2003, Monsanto agreed to pay $700 million to settle claims by 20,000 Anniston Alabama residents, in the US, over PCB contamination. Monsanto documents indicate that the company routinely dumped PCBs in the land and water supply of Anniston and covered up its behaviour for more than 40 years…
Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications (referring to the US Food and Drug Administration) explained the company’s regulatory philosophy in 1998: “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is FDA’s job.”
Well that says it all! With an ethics policy like that we should all be very afraid indeed…
Phill Angell’s remark clearly shows that the regulation and safety of Genetically Modified foods is left with ample room for radical improvement and most certainly doesn’t uphold consumers’ health and safety as a priority.
Besides that, do we really want a company with a heinous track record, such as Monsanto, to modify and manufacture our food?
While an independent steering group may be necessary to shape and manage a public dialogue on Genetically Modified foods, let’s hope it’s not just a one way conversation and a sneaky ploy to manipulate facts and figures so that large corporations, politicians and regulators can get their way.
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“Environment secretary Caroline Spelman backs GM crops” by Juliette Jowit and John Vidal, published online 04.06 10. guardian.co.uk
CERCLIS3. 11 December 2001. Retrieved 10 October 2009, projects.publicintegrity.org/superfund/includes/Top100PRPs.p df
“Monsanto Held Liable For PCB Dumping”. The Washington Post, Retrieved 5 April 2010.
“FSA GM dialogue process a PR exercise on behalf of the GM industry”, published online anh-europe.org
“GM food deserves better than this witch-hunt”, published online 06.06.10, guardian.co.uk
“Food: The Use of Genetic Modification – A Public Dialogue” published online, food.gov.uk
“FSA accused of running PR exercise for GM industry”, published online 27.05.10, theecologist.org
“Doctors Warn About Dangers of Genetically Modified foods” by David Gutierrez, published online 25.02.10, naturalnews.com