How Are Genetically Engineered Crops Affecting Foods?

By Rose Aguilar
Your Call (Audio Interview)

If you shop in major grocery stores, chances are you’re eating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) with your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. An estimated 70 percent of processed foods, including soup and corn chips, contain genetically engineered ingredients, and over 90 percent of the world’s GMOs are owned by the biotech goliath Monsanto.

Guests: Eric Holt-Gimenez, executive director of Food First and author of Food Rebellions! Crisis and the Hunger for Justice; Ignacio Chapela, associate professor of microbial ecology at UC Berkeley; Mike Ludwig, Truthout reporter who covers the biotech industry; Jim Gerritsen, organic seed farmer in northern Maine and one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Monsanto.

Listen to the Your Call show that explores the question: How are genetically engineered crops affecting foods?

According to the Center for Food Safety, “a number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer. The use of genetic engineering in agriculture will lead to uncontrolled biological pollution, threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction, and the potential contamination of all non-genetically engineered life forms with novel and possibly hazardous genetic material.”

Thirty countries around the world, including Peru and Hungary, have either banned or have plans to ban GMOs. Here in the United States, you’re on your own. GMOs aren’t even regulated.

Monsanto has all of its bases covered in the US. Michael Taylor, a former lawyer whose clients included Monsanto, worked as a policy commissioner for the FDA from 1991 to 1994. While there, oversaw the development of government policy. He then served as Monsanto’s vice president for public policy from 1998 to 2001. In 2009, under the Obama administration, he returned to his old job, becoming senior advisor to the commissioner of the FDA. Over the past few decades, several executives have moved back and forth between Monsanto and the government, highlighting the ongoing problem with revolving door.

How did we get here?

In the must-see documentary, The World According to Monsanto, former vice-president George HW Bush is shown touring the company’s headquarters on May 15, 1987. During a conversation with Monsanto executives about a request before the USDA to test genetically engineered soybeans, he said, “Call me, we’re in the dereg business.” Deregulation or no regulation at all continued through several administrations.

In 1996, the Clinton administration approved genetically engineered soybeans, the country’s first ever bioengineered crop to hit the market. Since then, genetically engineered crops have spread far and wide, now covering over 250 million acres of land in North and South America.

The biotech industry and its proponents said genetically engineered plants offer increased crop yields, enhanced nutrition, and protection from infestations of pests and weeds.

Scientists and government officials who’ve disagreed with these claims by raising questions and concerns have been silenced and even fired.

In the film, Dan Glickman, Secretary of Agriculture under the Clinton administration from 1995 – 2000, said when he was involved in the regulation of biotechnology in the early years, there was a feeling inside that government that if you weren’t marching lockstep forward in favor of rapid approvals of GMO crops, you were anti-science.

“I had a lot of pressure on me not to push the issue too far. Even when I opened my mouth in the Clinton administration, I got slapped around a little bit by not only the industry, but also some of the people in the administration,” he said. “I made a speech once saying we needed to more thoughtfully think through the regulatory issues on GMOs and I had some people within the Clinton administration, particularly in the US trade area, that were very upset with me. They said, how can you in agriculture be questioning our regulatory regime?”

James Maryanski, Biotechnology Coordinator for the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition from 1985 – 2006, admitted in the film that regulation is based on politics, not science.

In public, FDA officials used to say there’s a profound difference between GMOs and non-GMOs, but FDA documents show the agency ignored alarming safety warnings from their own scientists. In 1994, attorney Steve Druker sued the FDA forcing the agency to declassify its internal files on GMOs.

“We received over 44,000 pages from the FDA’s own files and they revealed that the FDA has been lying to the world since 1992 if not before,” he said in the film. “But they continue to lie. They are still lying. They claim that there’s an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community that genetically engineered foods are as safe as their conventionally produced counterparts. They claim that there has been sufficient data to back up this consensus. Both of those claims are blatant lies.”

Ed. Note: Druker recently told The Nation he found ‘memorandum after memorandum contain[ing] warnings about the unique hazards of genetically engineered food,’ including the possibility that they could contain ‘unexpected toxins, carcinogens or allergens.’

So where does this leave citizens? What does this mean for the future of food? How are GMOs affecting our health, agriculture, and the environment? In Europe, these questions are regularly explored in the media. That’s not the case in the US.

Your Call invited Monsanto, the USDA, and several university professors who advocate for the use of GMOs, to join our show, but they all declined our interviews.

Related: Lawsuit seeks to invalidate Monsanto’s GMO patents, April 2011

11 responses to “How Are Genetically Engineered Crops Affecting Foods?

  1. With all due respect, it’s ridiculous for Eric Holt-Giminez to say that GMOs aren’t feeding people, only animals, especially after saying that 70% of all food in the grocery store contains GMOs.

    Clearly, GMOs ARE feeding people.

    Of course, it’s not healthy food; GM food has been linked to cancer, allergies and obesity (leading to diabetes).

  2. their lawyers will keep these obvious facts in stalling debate for decades.
    same as tobacco.
    same as american diabetes assn, sugar oligarchs.
    same as cut burn and poison medicine in cancer treatment.
    especially when the facts are obvious.

  3. Gmos are in ‘certified organic’ too Rady. I have explained this patiently before and this fact has appeared in other people’s writings too.

    Gmos are just like radioactivity. They go wherever they can ‘fly’. This is no joke. Organic is not free of gmos, not even close. When you buy ‘organic certified’ and you believe the people like Organic Vally, you are making them rich and getting only a marginally better product.

    By far and away, the best thing you can do is grow and raise your own. And when you buy food, buy from a local farmer. Nothing is totally pure anymore, but at least support, IN TOTAL, the resistance and DO NOT SUPPORT, the problem. Which is to say, do not support centralized control and the false advertising and manipulation of information by the large outlets that have taken over almost completely.

    We are an endangered and dying people. 2012 is almost here. Some have predicted that 2012 may be an interesting year.

    • yes, Ned, I know GMOs are in “certified organic” and other foods supposedly free of GMOs.

      Your Call Radio is not large, by any stretch. It’s fully listener supported. So I see no problem with posting an article by them — the info contained in the interview is accurate except for the criticism i made above.

      The most important speaker on that show is Ignacio Chapela. his presence makes the entire show worth listening to.

      • I know you know, Rady. It’s just that a lot of people don’t know. I worked very hard as a small farmer in the ’80’s and ’90’s to avoid the trouble that we are in now, both the trouble (economic devastation) for myself and family personally, and the rest of the world (the complete takeover of virtually everything by corporate powers, backed wherever deemed necessary by military and police state ‘justice’).

        To say I’m disappointed would be a massive understatement. Nonetheless, what choice have we but to continue to fight and struggle for our freedom and our dreams?

        I very much value this site, even in our losing cause.

        nedlud

        • i’m with you, Ned ~ that book, DGR, has great strategy and tactics for our side

          • Thanks. I’m real down right now because of the struggles of our own little family farm. Every year, since about ’04, things have gotten worse. If next year is worse than this one, AGAIN, I think I might just be ready to jump, it is that bad for us. We have farmed organically since the late ’70’s btw.

            It really bothers me when ‘pals’ like Ronnie Cummins of Organic Consumers and Mark Kastel of Cornucopia proudly proclaim how great ‘certified organic’ is. Well, it is for them. It is making them money, in their bureaucratic ‘love seats’, by the sack full.

            Not so with real farmers. We are improverished to the point of death, almost. Things have not gone well.

            Very down.

            Ned

  4. No honey in the US can be certified organic because of GMO contamination in the US (pollens). All certified organic honey are imports. I was told this by researchers at a GMO conference I attended.
    There is a correlation of greater bee colony collapses in countries with more GMOs–and the US has a high rate– we were told.

    • wow, I did not know that all certified organic honey sold in the US is imported. that means that some CO honey here is mislabeled.

    • Interesting. We buy honey, but we buy local. It is amazing how there aren’t bees anymore. I remember years ago how they were just ‘a-buzz’ in the fields of clover and alfalfa when I was mowing hay with our horses. There are still some, but not like back in ’80’s. The world has really changed since then and not in a good way…

  5. Ned, i feel for you and send you my prayers and hopes for an economic breakthru for you and your family.

    I’ve been outa work for over a year and things are starting to get dicey now. keep me in your prayers, too.

    No jumpin’ allowed. In other nations, people are robbing the banksters
    see this video

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