Dave Rogers:Valid Concerns About Genetically Altered Food Justify Labeling
May 28, 2013
Dave Rogers is a Policy Advisor for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), and is one of the lead organizers of the VT Right to Know GMOs coalition. Dave Joined NOFA in 2006 after 28 years as member of the UVM faculty in the Department of Animal Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Valid Concerns About Genetically Altered Food Justify Labeling
Published in print: Valley News – Saturday, May 25, 2013
Dave Rogers, Richmond,VT.
The Vermont House voted earlier this month to approve H112, a bill that requires the labeling of foods sold in Vermont that have been produced using genetic engineering technology. The 99-42 vote came after weeks of wide-ranging committee testimony by legal experts, scientists, farmers, state and federal officials, and diverse industry and public interest organizations. The committees reviewed legal briefs, scientific studies and federal regulations.
Legislators concluded that because the risks posed by genetically engineered foods to human health and the environment are poorly understood and poorly regulated that the state “should require food produced with genetic engineering to be labeled.”
Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor and Bloomberg View columnist, comes to a different conclusion in an op-ed published in the May 14 Valley News (“Don’t Mandate Labels for Foods with Gene-Altered Ingredients”). Sunstein believes that mandatory labeling is unwise because it would “mislead and alarm” consumers about the safety of genetically engineered foods and cause “economic damage.” He accepts the conclusions of those “official organizations” who say that genetically engineered foods are as safe as any other foods. “Unless science can identify a legitimate concern about risks to health or the environment, the argument for compulsory (genetically modified) labels rests on weak foundations,” Sunstein writes.
Apparently, he is unaware of the facts and the growing number of international scientific studies that raised such legitimate concerns among Vermont lawmakers.
Just one example: About 90 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. has been genetically engineered to produce its own insecticidal toxin (Bt toxin). These toxins are found in every bite of hundreds of foods on our market shelves that contain ingredients derived from corn. And yet, in field and laboratory studies, Bt toxins have been shown to be allergenic. (The Food and Drug Administration and EPA approved Bt corn in 1996 without adequate health and environmental safety testing.) In 2011, researchers in Quebec found Bt toxins in the blood of 93 percent of pregnant women tested and in 80 percent of fetal cord blood. “Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the fetus, more studies are needed,” the researchers concluded.
And just last month, in another peer-reviewed paper, Brazilian researchers reported that the Bt toxin is toxic to bone marrow and blood of laboratory mice, and that “taking into account the increased risk of human and animal exposures to significant levels of these toxins, especially through diet … further studies are required … before concluding that (Bt toxins) are safe for mammals.”
So, is there scientific uncertainty and reason for “legitimate concern” about the safety of Bt corn and foods that are made from it? You bet. And you don’t have to be a scientist to connect the dots. There are many other examples in the scientific literature — more of them all the time — that raise serious questions about the safety of genetically engineered foods and the adequacy of government regulation of related health and environmental risks.
And it turns out that even some of the “official organizations” that Sunstein states are firmly convinced of the safety of genetically engineered foods now seem to be not so sure. In June 2012, the American Medical Association, after reviewing recent studies concerning the safety of genetically engineered foods, called for mandatory FDA premarket safety assessments of such foods “as a preventive measure to ensure the health of the public.” (Most people don’t realize that the FDA does not conduct such tests, but instead relies on voluntary reporting of tests and studies conducted or funded by the companies that develop and sell the foods.) The AMA also urged the FDA “to remain alert to new data on the health consequences of bioengineered foods.”
In a 2004 report on the safety of genetically engineered foods, the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine called for “a significant research effort … to develop new methods and dietary survey tools to detect health changes in the population that could result from genetic modification and, specifically, genetic engineering of food.” To date, these new methods have not been adopted, but, as a number of scientists have pointed out, labeling genetically engineered foods would greatly assist epidemiologists in detecting subtle health effects in the population.
The case for requiring labeling is strong and getting stronger all the time. This is evident to those who make the effort to objectively examine the facts. That’s what Vermont House members did and, we hope, the state Senate will do when the bill is considered there next year. Sunstein and others who uncritically oppose genetically engineered labeling owe it to the public to do the same.
Dave Rogers is policy adviser with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. NOFA is a member of the Vermont Right To Know GMOs coalition (vtrighttoknow.org) with Rural Vermont, VPIRG and Cedar Circle Farm.
GMO Labeling Bill Passes House!
May 10, 2013
Today the House of Representatives passed H.112 , this year’s GMO labeling law, by a vote of 99-42! This is the furthest any such legislation has made it through the legislative process in the US. It was clear that hearing from Vermonters like you that gave them the courage to lead the nation on this important issue. Continue reading
GMO Labeling Bill Passes First House Vote
May 9, 2013
Today the Vermont House of Representatives voted 107-37 to bring H.112, this year’s labeling law to a final vote tomorrow. If the bill passes it will be sent to the Senate where they will begin work on the bill in January, and it would be the first piece of comprehensive GMO labeling legislation passed by a state house of representatives.
Some of the strongest voices of support for the bill came from members of the House Agriculture and Judiciary Committees. Reps. Zagar, Teleno, Michelsen, and Bartholomew explained important aspects of the bill and the many studies that compelled the Agriculture Committee to pass the bill earlier this session.
Judiciary Chair Rep. Bill Lippert spoke about Vermont’s established history of leading the nation on important issues saying, “When we passed civil unions, we were told that Vermont would be boycotted and that our tourism industry would die. When we passed mercury-labeling requirements, we were told that fluorescent light bulbs would no longer light the rooms of Vermont . . . Now, we are told if we pass GE labeling we will face losing our boxes of corn flakes. … Vermont should move forward, and lead the nation once again. I vote yes, once again, without fear.”
A rigorous debate is expected on the House floor for the final vote tomorrow, keep checking in with us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest on the campaign.
GMO Labeling Bill Passed by House Judiciary!
May 7, 2013
Today the House Judiciary Committee voted 7-4 to pass H.112, the Vermont GMO labeling bill. The bill will now go to the full House of Representatives where a full vote is expected later this week. If the bill passes out of committee it will be the furthest a comprehensive GMO labeling bill has advanced in any state legislature. With the legislature slated to end their session later this week the bill will be in a great position to be taken up in the Senate when lawmakers return to their work in January. Please take a moment to contact your Representative(s) and urge them to pass H.112 this session! Continue reading