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Forum Post: Senators Angle for Monsanto-Friendly FDA Voluntary GMO Labeling "Guidance"

Posted 10 months ago on Sept. 29, 2013, 3:39 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5854)
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Senators Angle for Monsanto-Friendly FDA Voluntary GMO Labeling "Guidance"

Sunday, 29 September 2013 09:43 By Katherine Paul and Alexis Baden-Mayer, Organic Consumers Association | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/19114-senators-angle-for-monsanto-friendly-fda-voluntary-gmo-labeling-guidance

While consumers battle on for laws mandating the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food products, some lawmakers are taking the GMO labeling debate in a different direction. And it’s a direction that’s anything but consumer friendly.

Last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) asked the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to finalize its 2001 guidance on voluntary labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The senators advertised their request as a move intended to benefit consumers. But in fact, a federal voluntary labeling plan plays right into the hands of the biotech and big food industries.

How? Worst-case scenario, once the FDA finalizes its GMO labeling guidance, industry uses the FDA guidance to preempt state laws requiring mandatory labeling of GMOs. Currently, states have the right to enact GMO labeling laws precisely because the FDA has not formally ruled on GMO labeling.

Second, the FDA’s guidance on voluntary GMO labeling could be used to put an end to existing, legitimate voluntary non-GMO labeling efforts. By allowing the FDA, which has previously (and controversially) ruled that GMO and non-GMO foods are “substantially equivalent,” the FDA could rule against non-GMO or GMO-free labels on the basis that they mislead consumers by implying that there’s a difference between GMO and non-GMO foods.

The operative word: ‘voluntary’

On August 22, Sen. Warren and Sen. Udall sent a joint letter to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration urging the agency “. . . to finalize its guidance document on labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) marketed as food or food additives.”

“We encourage the FDA to implement a regulatory framework that will promote transparency for consumers while providing producers with the certainty they need to label their products appropriately.”

Coming from Sen. Warren, whose reputation as a staunch consumer advocate is near-legendary, the letter to the FDA looks like another example of the Massachusetts senator going to bat for consumers – specifically, the 93 percent of Americans who want mandatory GMO labeling laws.

Until you take a closer look.

The 2001 guidance document, Docket Number 00D-1598, that Warren and Udall reference in their letter is intended to provide guidance for voluntary labeling, not the mandatory labeling consumers are fighting for. Yet nowhere in the letter to the FDA, or in the press release issued by Warren’s office, does the word “voluntary” appear.

Oversight? Or did Senators Warren and Udall intentionally omit the word “voluntary” in the hope that consumers wouldn’t notice?

Senators Warren and Udall both refused to support federal legislation that would have required mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs. Both also voted against an amendment to the farm bill that would have protected states’ rights to label GMOs.

Are Senators Warren and Udall simply misinformed on the merits of voluntary labeling versus mandatory labeling? Or have they joined the cast of lawmakers toiling behind the scenes on behalf of Monsanto, not consumers?

A ploy to preempt state labeling laws?

Monsanto likes to cry “unfair” when it comes to the issue of state GMO labeling laws. The biotech giant has even threatened to sue states that attempt to pass their own GMO labeling laws, on the basis that state labeling laws violate interstate commerce rules, which makes them illegal.

Despite Monsanto’s yet-untested threats, current law supports states’ rights to enact their own food labeling laws, as long as two conditions are met. First, the state must produce compelling evidence that the law is needed to protect the health or safety of citizens. And second, there must be no pre-existing FDA regulation governing the label in question.

State GMO labeling laws currently meet those conditions. But that could change if the FDA heeds Senators Warren’s and Udall’s call to finalize its 2001 guidance on voluntary GMO labeling. And industry knows it.

In 2010, a consumer sued ConAgra for claiming that its Wesson-brand oil, made from genetically engineered canola oil, was “100% natural.” The lawsuit called for the courts to require ConAgra to accurately label the product. The courts ultimately dismissed the lawsuit on procedural grounds. But not before they addressed some of ConAgra’s arguments, including the food maker’s claim that, under the law, California had no legal right to establish its own standards governing the use of “natural” on food labels.

The court disagreed, stating that because the FDA had never defined what constitutes the words “natural” or “all natural” on food products, California could in fact define those words on a statewide basis. Absent any relevant federal standard, California’s law would pose no conflict with federal laws. ConAgra also had argued that any attempt to require the company to label its products as containing GMOs would be preempted by the FDA’s 2001 draft guidance on voluntary GMO labeling. Again, the court disagreed, citing the fact that the FDA guidance had never been finalized.

“As the guidance makes clear, it is merely a non-binding draft distributed for comment purposes. The guidance was not the product of a formal administrative process suggesting fairness and deliberation by the agency; it therefore cannot be said to have the force of federal law.”

The message to ConAgra and Monsanto? Get the FDA to finalize the 2001 draft guidance, and maybe you’ll have a case.

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[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5854) 10 months ago

The end of legitimate non-GMO labels?

Increasingly, retailers see the wisdom (read marketing advantage) of voluntarily labeling products that contain GMOs. Whole Foods Market announced earlier this year that its stores would label GMOs by 2018. Consumers have no problem with retailers who voluntarily label GMO products in their stores. Nor do they have a problem with manufacturers who subject their products to GMO testing and have them certified by a third party, such as the Non-GMO Project.

But a voluntary labeling scheme written by the biotech industry-friendly FDA? That’s a whole other ball of wax.

Here’s our first clue that FDA guidance on GMO labeling won’t address consumer concerns. The “solution” proposed by Senators Warren and Udall has the support of industry, including the International Dairy Foods Association, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a big funder of campaigns in California and Washington aimed at defeating state GMO labeling laws.

Monsanto itself has publicly endorsed the FDA’s 2001 guidance on voluntary labeling, in a statement published on the company’s website.

And no wonder. The FDA has a history of using food labeling guidance to promote industry’s interests over those of consumers.

Case in point. In 1990, the FDA declared recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), a genetically engineered hormone used to increase milk production in dairy cows, safe. In 1993, the FDA gave Monsanto the green light to use rBGH.

Consumers, influenced by studies citing health risks associated with rBGH, raised a stink. Some milk producers responded to consumer concerns by refusing to use the hormone. They also began marketing their products as rBGH-free.

That didn’t sit well with Monsanto, which saw consumer demand for rBGH-free milk as a threat to its bottom line. The biotech giant complained to the FDA that rBGH-free labels were misleading because, after all, the FDA had ruled that GMO and non-GMO foods were “substantially equivalent.”

The FDA compromised. Under 1994 Food Labeling Guidance, the FDA said it would allow rBGH-free labels on dairy products, but only on the condition that the label also stated that there was “no significant difference” between milk produced using rBGH and milk produced without the hormone.

Not satisfied with the FDA’s ruling, rBGH-free dairies took Monsanto and the FDA to court. They won by proving that milk produced with rBGH is compositionally different than milk produced without the hormone.

But the courts and consumers could face a much higher climb when it comes to challenging the FDA on “GMO-free” labels. If the FDA heeds the call to finalize its 2001 guidance on voluntary labeling of GMOs, it could spell the end of GMO-free labeling. And that would leave consumers with no mandatory labeling, and no reliable voluntary labeling.

Here’s why. According to the FDA’s yet-to-be finalized 2001 guidance, "genetic modification" means the alteration of the genotype of a plant through the use of any technique, new or traditional. The word ‘modification,” says the FDA, covers a broad range of activities that could result in a change in the composition of food, including adding, deleting or altering hereditary traits.

Under those guidelines, most, if not all, cultivated crops have been genetically modified – though not necessarily through bioengineering technology. So, by the FDA’s reasoning, any label that includes the word “modified” – as in “not genetically modified” or “GMO-free” - is technically inaccurate, unless used clearly in a context that refers to bioengineering technology. Moreover, the term "GMO free" may be misleading on most foods, according to the FDA, because most foods do not contain organisms (seeds and foods like yogurt that contain microorganisms are exceptions). Again, by that reasoning, it would likely be misleading to suggest that a food that ordinarily would not contain entire "organisms" is "organism-free."

And there’s more. The FDA says that any label suggesting that a food was not bioengineered or does not contain “bioengineered ingredients” could be considered misleading if it implies that the labeled food is superior to foods that are not labeled GMO-free. Again, based on its previous ruling that there GMO and non-GMO foods are “substantially equivalent.”

Bottom line? If the FDA finalizes its guidance on voluntary GMO labeling, where does that leave consumers? Right where they are now. In the dark.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5854) 10 months ago

Rebelling Against Massive Use of Pesticides, Brazilians Shift to Organic Foods

Thursday, 03 October 2013 09:41 By Antonio Pasolini, Occupy.com | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/19207-rebelling-against-massive-use-of-pesticides-brazilians-shift-to-organic-foods

Santa Maria, Brazil - Every Saturday morning, organic food traders from Santa Maria de Jetibá, a Pomeranian settlement on the mountains of Espírito Santo State, in southeastern Brazil, set up their stalls under a bridge in the beach district. It is Praia da Costa, in Vila Velha, one of the cities that make up the metropolitan region of the capital Vitoria, and they are selling organic products to a loyal clientele who are lucky enough to have the foods brought to their doorstep at a price that's competitive with non-organic items sold at the supermarket.

Selling organic produce is more than a business choice for these Pomeranians: it is, rather, a health-preservation measure. This ethnic group, which emigrated in the 1840s from a Polish region that used to belong to Germany, chose Santa Maria as one of its mountain settlements. They preserved a dialect that is no longer spoken in Europe and lived in relative isolation for over a century. Then, some years ago, a high suicide rate in the community called the attention of researchers, who established a link between the deaths and the high use of pesticides in the region – many of which also caused infertility and skin cancer. In response, an organic food movement was born as a local organic certification scheme, called Chão Vivo, in 1999 began stimulating a shift toward organic farming. One of the reasons that many concerned Brazilians are switching to organic is that the country is also the biggest user of pesticides per capita in the world, an unfortunate distinction Brazil has held since 2008. The situation inspired documentary maker Silvio Tendler to produce O Veneno Está Na Mesa (Poison is On the Table), a film that reveals, among other things, the alarming statistic that Brazil uses 5.1 kilos (11.2 lb) of pesticide per person per year.

In the United States, the equivalent figure is 4.5 pounds per person, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And besides the amount of pesticides, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that chemicals which have been banned in most other countries get dumped in Brazil due to lax legislation and intense lobbying from chemical companies.

Poison-Friendly Policies

According to Moyses Veiga, an environmental consultant who has lived among the Pomeranians and worked for the Chão Vivo organic certification scheme, the deeper story dates back to the 1960s when different governments started to pursue a policy of “modernizing agriculture.”

In 1965, Brazil's government introduced a credit line called Sistema Nacional de Crédito Rural, which submitted financing for the purchase of agricultural inputs by farmers. In 1975, another program called Programa Nacional de Defensivos Agrícolas streamed funds toward the creation of national companies, as well as to transnational agricultural input companies willing to open branches in Brazil. “Another factor that boosted the use of pesticides in Brazil was an outdated and loose regulation that was in place until 1989, which made it easier to register hundreds of toxic substances, some of which had already been banned in developed countries,” said Veiga. Veiga points out that it was in the period between 2001 and 2008 that the sale of pesticides in Brazil reached frightening proportions, and Brazil moved up to the top of the ranking. Agriculture revenue jumped from $2 billion to more than $7 billion per year in that period. Then, in 2009, Brazil's pesticide use soared to 1 million applied tons. (Environmentalists in the country say that if smuggled pesticides are additionally factored in, the figure could be as high as 9.5 kg per capita.)

All of this has had a negative impact on human and non-human health as well as the environment, facts that more and more of the population is coming to understand. According to Sérgio Koiffman, a researcher with Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, pesticides are substances designed to destroy certain animal pests whose structure is similar to our own.

“Some of the most serious effects include neoplasms, defects in the central nervous system, while the more subtle problems are the neurological development of a child, changes in kidney [health] and sexual functions, and cancer,” said Koiffman. He added that more recently, researchers have noted that exposure to pesticides during pregnancy affects the fetus as well.

Contamination happens through food or water, he said, and in the case of workers who handle the products directly, symptoms tend to me more acute while consumers develop less progressive, though not less serious, problems. One particular class of pesticides, known as methamidophos, has called the attention of government and researchers in recent years. The pesticide was used for pest control on cotton, peanut, potato, bean, soybean, industrial use tomato, and wheat crops.

The Brazilian Health Surveillance Agency, Anvisa, banned it in 2012 after toxicological tests indicated the pesticide to be a class of poison can cause damages in embryo and fetal development, besides affecting endocrine and the reproductive systems.

“There was no evidence that the product is safe for people’s health,” said Anvisa's director, José Agenor Álvares.

Due to a high concentration of this class of chemicals in the waterways of Mato Grosso State, where some of Brazil’s largest monocultures are located, post-graduate student Izabela Gutierrez de Arruda felt compelled to look deeper into their effects. Gutierrez developed a biosensor based on enzyme inhibition, which helps farmers measure levels of contamination using a portable and cheap piece equipment.

The good news is that all over Brazil, organic street markets are cropping up to cater to the growing demand for healthy food. With more information circulating on social networks, and increasing awareness of the country’s pesticide abuse problem, organic farmers markets like the one in Vila Velha are on their way to becoming fixture in many Brazilian cities.

The City of Belo Horizonte, one of the country’s largest metropolitan regions, reported an increase of 10 percent in demand for organics in the first half of 2013 compared with the same period last year. Rising demand is likely to boost the share of organic food in Brazil’s agricultural production – which currently stands at only five percent of the total – and hopefully slows down the poisoning of the country with pesticides.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5854) 10 months ago

Obedience to Corporate-State Authority Makes Consumer Society Increasingly Dangerous

Sunday, 29 September 2013 00:00 By Yosef Brody, Truthout | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/19050-the-experiment-requires-that-you-continue-obedience-to-corporate-state-authority-in-an-increasingly-dangerous-consumer-society


Destabilization of Arctic Sea Ice Would Be "Game Over" for Climate

Sunday, 29 September 2013 09:56 By Subhankar Banerjee, ClimateStoryTellers | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/19115-destabilization-of-arctic-sea-ice-would-be-game-over-for-climate

[-] 1 points by Builder (4202) 10 months ago

I often wonder where we would be in our development and technology, if all the cash spent on finding or creating loopholes in laws, was redirected to making better products that are actually good for people.

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