The so-called "DARK" Act, a bill introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year (4/9/2014) by Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) and G.K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina) undermines the positive accomplishments achieved by state initiatives, bills and laws seeking to label foods containing GMOs. "DARK" is an acronym that stands for Deny Americans the Right to Know. Officially, the bill is H.R.4432, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014. It amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which establishes specific notification requirements for a bioengineered organism (GMO) intended for a food use or application.
Why Is the DARK Act Dangerous?
The bill seeks to institute a federal GMO labeling law that puts authority in the hands of the FDA, which thus far has not been willing to take on that task. The bill would ensure that the FDA has sole authority to determine the conditions under which a bioengineered food should carry a GMO label. It would also establish the core requirements for manufacturers to make claims regarding the presence or absence of GMO ingredients in their products.
The bill further stipulates that a food producer may not suggest or imply that a food produced without bioengineered ingredients is safer than foods that do contain them. So it is easy to see that this bill was not developed by those who are fighting for a strong non-GMO label.
The debate in our capital continues to rage on as to whether or not there is a material difference between a food produced from, containing, or consisting of a bioengineered organism and its comparable non-bioengineered food, and if the disclosure of such information is necessary to protect the health and safety of the public. Furthermore, is the labeling, or lack of, such food false or misleading? The bill states that: “The use of bioengineering does not, by itself, constitute a material difference.” (1)
What Does the FDA Want?
The FDA currently favors a voluntary approach to the issue. The bill, which has the support of the food, biotechnology and agriculture industries, may get pushback from the FDA for a number of reasons, including 1 - the need to define the term "natural," and 2 - requiring food companies to notify the agency before any new GMO ingredient goes on the market. Currently both of these processes are voluntary. It should be noted that no company has ever voluntarily labeled GMO ingredients in its product, although the FDA policy has been in effect since 1991. In effect, much would remain the status quo if this bill is passed and there would be no GMO labeling at all.
The Question of What Is "Natural"?
The word "natural" is currently unregulated in the food industry, leading to much confusion in the public sector. The DARK Act, unfortunately, seeks to further complicate the issue by directing the FDA to define what is meant by “natural" foods and what would be required to make a “natural,” “100% natural,” “naturally grown,” “all natural,” or “made with natural ingredients” claim. In and of itself that is not a bad directive, however the bill wants to allow that GE foods are “natural.” This is clearly twisting the truth, and will further mislead the general public. It would potentially make it possible for food producers to put a “natural” label on products that contain GE ingredients or to claim that all GE ingredients currently on the market are “safe.”
Why Is A Federal GMO Labeling Law Not A Good Thing?
Very simply, a federal GMO labeling law such as the DARK Act is negative because it would preempt any state or local regulations or laws. It would bar states with stronger requirements regarding GMO labeling, undoing the work that has already been done to accomplish these regulations. This particular federal bill, favored by groups and associations that do not seek to regulate or halt the use of GMOs, is watered-down and full of loopholes. Any federal law supersedes state regulations.
Scott Faber, on behalf of Just Label It and, indeed, the American people, appeared in Washington to testify against the bill. He urged a congressional panel to “support laws that protect Americans’ right to know. (He said) "A modest disclosure on the back of food packages will not only give consumers basic information about what's in their food and how it was produced, but will also cure the consumer confusion caused by the widespread us of misleading claims like 'natural'." (2)
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), a strong ally of the GMO labeling movement, has also introduced a federal bill (S. 809); this one mandating the labeling of foods that contain GMOs. Boxer has the advantage of a companion bill (H.R. 1699) in the House of Representative from Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon). A bill such as Boxer's would be advantageous to the GMO labeling cause.
Pompeo's Point of View
Says Pompeo, "We believe the only mandatory information that appears on a food label should be decided by the FDA, and it should focus on the safety and nutritional content of a product.”(3) According to FactCheck.org, Congressman Pompeo "accepted $21,000 so far in this campaign cycle from political action committees run by companies or groups opposed to labeling, including $5,000 from Bayer, $4,500 from General Mills, $4,000 from Dow Chemical and $2,000 from the Grocery Manufacturers Association" in addition to another $1,000 from Monsanto.(4)
Supporters of the DARK Act include the American Soybean Association, the North American Millers' Association and the National Corn Growers Association. Opponents of the bill include the Organic Trade Association, the Environmental Working Group and, of course, Just Label It, among many other Right To Know and Organic groups.
A Final Question
Since President Obama took office, many public interest groups that support GMO labeling have called on him to come through on his 2007 campaign promise to label GMO's. If this is what a watered-down federal labeling bill will be, we have to ask ourselves, does it still make sense?
1 - http://www.patentdocs.org/2014/05/gmo-labeling-bill-introduced-in-the-house.html
2 - http://justlabelit.org/ewgs-scott-faber-testifies-against-anti-ge-labeling-bill/
Reply to October 20th Op-Ed
The recent opinion article “GMO labeling is not in our best interests” was inundated with discombobulated falsehoods, in a blatant effort to mislead and confuse the general public regarding genetically modified foods (GMOs). This piece was written in response to Mayor Steven Fulop’s September 23rd Op-Ed calling on legislators in Trenton to pass a mandatory GMO labeling law.
I would like to address and clarify a number of issues Gal Hochman and David Zilberman tried to put forth as fact, even though they are fiction. The adoption of GMO crops has been a nightmare for the environment in many ways. As weeds became resistant to the effects of pesticides sprayed on them and GMO crops, more and stronger toxins became necessary in an effort to control them. Weeds and bugs mutated from exposure to these toxins; they are now referred to as superweeds and superbugs. If this sounds like a horror movie, it’s because it is. Any citizen can find proof of this information on the USDA website. Superweeds are glyphosate resistant weeds, they can grow up to three inches a day, and require the use of ever increasing amounts and potencies of toxic herbicides to control. GMO crops are the food source in the midst of all these superweeds, also being sprayed with toxic chemicals. This is our food.
Vermont has indeed passed a unilateral labeling law however, contrary to what the authors say, the state is not alone. In 2013, Connecticut passed a GMO labeling law, and in January 2014, Maine followed suit. Connecticut and Maine's legislation both require four neighboring states to pass similar legislation before the laws take effect. There are now three states all together. A number of regions in the United States have independently voted to become GMO-free, for example the San Juan Islands of Washington state and four counties in California. Currently, Los Angeles is going to vote on an ordinance banning the sale and growth of seeds and plants bearing genetically modified organisms.
The people are speaking and legislators are listening. There are currently 35 bills pending in 20 states on GMO labeling, with votes coming up in November on mandatory labeling in Colorado and Oregon.
The Cornell University study the authors cite saying a family of four would pay $500 more per year in grocery bills due to GMO labeling is patently false. According to Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, the true cost would be about $2.30 per person,"less than a penny a day for each consumer." Furthermore, take note that packaged food labeling is constantly undergoing change for a variety of reasons. Think “New and Improved!”
Finally, I challenge the authors to show that there is any demand at all by consumers for GMO products, when the the “Non-GMO” label is the the fastest growing in the food industry, up 12% every year for the past three years, with no sign of abating. This is unprecedented growth! Global sales of non-GMO products are expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 15 percent in the next five years, with a market valuation of $800 billion by 2017, according to Packaged Facts. The real demand will continue to be evidenced at the cash register.
(Released jointly by New Jersey Food & Water Watch and NOFA-NJ on 10/15/14)
NJ Farmers Join with Legislative Leaders to Push GMO Food Labeling Bill
Farmers Cite Pollen Drift, Market Consolidation, Consumer Choice and Threat to Organics Among Needs for Labeling Law
Trenton, NJ: Following the recent movement of legislation requiring the labeling of genetically modified (GMO) foods in the State Assembly, New Jersey farmers concerned about their livelihoods joined legislative leaders today to call for passage of the bill by the full legislature. A letter was released from dozens of farmers across the state supporting the GMO labeling bill, refuting assertions made by the agribusiness industry that New Jersey farmers are opposed to the legislation. View the letter here: http://bit.ly/NJFarmersForGMOLabeling
“I consider this legislation to be one of my priorities. Consumer awareness and protection is a key element in allowing people to make informed choices,” said State Senator Robert Singer. “As more and more families are moving towards a whole-foods diet, they should not have to spend their time trying to ferret out GMO products. That information should be readily available to them.”
The GMO labeling bill gained momentum last week when the Assembly State and Local Government Committee passed it. This November, voters in Oregon will decide on a measure that would require labels on GMO foods. If passed Oregon would be the 4th state in to enact a law that requires labeling, following Connecticut, Maine and Vermont.
“As a prime sponsor of the legislation that was voted out of the ASL committee last week, I stand with our farmers about the risk of GMOs in New Jersey,” said Assemblywoman Linda Stender. “A-1359 looks to improve our knowledge by requiring the labeling of all foods that contain genetically engineered material. Given the absence of concrete, long-term studies on health and environmental impacts, the bill will allow consumers to make an informed choice about the products they are purchasing for their families to eat.”
Pesticides sprayed on GMO crops can drift up to four miles and wipe out nearby specialty crops such as Jersey tomatoes, blueberries and cranberries. This not only threatens the livelihood of farmers, but also threatens consumer choice and the health and wellbeing of New Jersey residents.
“The entire burden of contamination sits on the shoulders of the non-gmo farmer. Spraying of chemicals like Round-Up and 2,4-D which drift into neighboring farms, limiting our clean seed supply which could completely wipe-out heirloom and organic seed varieties, and through gene flow contamination when pollination is completed through wind drift,” said Camille Miller Executive Director of The North East Organic Farming Association of New Jersey.
"As a sustainable farmer serving some of New Jersey's cities, I have the opportunity to discuss eating and food issues with consumers. These people, citizens of our state seek out the food I bring to market and care that no GMO seed or plants are grown on our farm," said Al Esposito, Poplar Wood Farm of Port Murray.
“What concerns us about GMO production is the copious amounts of Round-Up being used to grow GMO crops. We are just starting to see the many studies that show signs of far reaching health concerns. When I speak to consumers, this seems like one of their biggest concerns,” said Margie Neil from FAR Winds Farm of Williamstown.
"By using genetic modification techniques to cross species barriers, we take big risks with the ecosystem. Life forms in our world interact constantly and in ways we are still far from completely comprehending,” said Hisham Moharram, PhD., Good Tree Farm of New Egypt. This tinkering could lead to the decimation of a wild plant necessary to the ecosystem, and there may be nothing we can do to stop the damage once it starts," added Dr. Moharram.
“The question about labeling is not one of if, but rather of when. Consumers want labeling so they have a choice in what they eat, but based on what we are hearing from New Jersey farmers, the practices related to GMO farming are limiting their ability to chose what they want to eat,” said Jim Walsh, NJ Director of Food & Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group who worked with NOFA to bring forward the letter released today. “The time for GMO labeling in New Jersey is now.”
Q: What are GMOs?
A: GMOs - genetically modified organisms - occur when the genetic material in a seed or animal has been altered in a way that cannot occur in nature. Biotech companies have figured out how to take DNA from different sources, and combine them into one molecule to create a new set of genes. It is always done in a laboratory. It is not the same as cross-breeding or a hybrid.
A less known fact about genetically modified organisms, is that for the sources of DNA to be combined there needs to be a vector, or vehicle of transport, for the DNA. This generally comes from a bacterial or a viral source. This is our food!
Q: Why were GMOs created?
A: Initially seeds were genetically modified to withstand the use of extremely toxic herbicides in order to control weed growth and/or insect infestation. These GMO seeds were sold to farmers with the promise that they would reduce their work load. This was because the seeds could be planted, and being genetically engineered, could then be mass-sprayed with herbicides and pesticides without fear of hurting the crops. But over time many genetically engineered plants have mutated, and now require more and stronger pesticides to be sprayed on them. This is our food!
Q: Why are people so concerned about GMOs?
A: Despite what the biotech and packaged food industries would like consumers to believe, the fact is that GMOs have never been fully tested for safety. Therefore there is no reason to believe - or know - that they really are harmless to humans. In fact, they have been shown to be harmful to animals, a research finding that often transfers over to humans. This is our food!
Q: Are GMOs safe for the environment?
A: There is documented evidence to the contrary! Genetically engineered plants have mutated and now require the spraying of more and stronger herbicides and pesticides. There are “superweeds” and “superbugs” that have mutated as well; they have outsmarted the toxic chemicals that have been sprayed for years. You cannot mess with Mother Nature.
In addition to all this, there are the environmental issues of water run-off containing chemical residue from the spraying of toxins on GMO crops, air and pollen drift from GMO crops that contaminate conventional and organic fields, and a host of other environmental woes. This is our food!
*Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the toxic herbicide Roundup.
Q: How much of our food comes from genetically engineered seeds?
A: Good question, scary answer! Of the “big 5” crops - corn, sugar beets, cotton, soy and canola - the percentage is between 80 and 95%! While it may not seem like these raw materials apply to YOU they find their way into so many processed foods that a whopping 70% of all foods in the American marketplace contain GMOs.
Q: How do I know what foods GMOs are in?
A: You don’t, because there is no mandatory labeling of GMOs in the United States. 64 countries around the world have mandatory labeling laws in effect, however the U.S. is one of the only industrialized nations that does not! Until we do, there are a few things you can do to try to avoid GMOs:
1 - Buy Organic: the organic label excludes the inclusion of GMOs.
2 - Look for the Non-GMO Label: many manufacturers are now pro-active about labeling their products, or better yet, getting their product certified as "GMO-free" by a 3rd party verification service such as the Non-GMO Project Verified.
3 - Get Educated: if you know what GMO foods are, it’s easier to avoid them. Read labels!
If you are interested in more information, including a detailed listing of where GMOs are lurking in our food system, please take a look at my new book GMOs: What's Hidden In Our Food, now available on Amazon.
PDF available for reprint. For permissions please contact me.
Copyright © 2014 Michele Jacobson, CCN. All rights reserved.
Do you have a question about GMOs? Please feel free to ask, below.
This summer I had the honor of being interviewed by journalist Alice Stockton-Rossini for a story she was doing on GMOs. It is interesting to listen to the divergent and - I think - misguided, points of view of the Biotech Trade Association representative, as well as a farmer who uses GMO seeds. It's a mistake to close your ears to what others are saying. Please take a listen: http://www.wbgo.org/journal
Response to “Genetically Modified Foods: What They Are and A Look At The Debate” (AP - May 13, 2014)
While it’s true that genetically engineered ingredients have been present in the foods Americans have eaten for years - since the early 1990’s, in fact - to compare the process to selective breeding is incorrect, and just what the biotechnology corporations want consumers to believe. Genetic engineering is a process that cannot occur by itself in nature, it is always done in a laboratory, it is not necessarily a precise procedure and, most importantly, it does not combine the genes of the same species together. The articles’ author compares the breeding of a docile dog with the process of genetic engineering (aka GMOs), however nothing could be further off-base! A cock-a-poo, for example, is bred from a poodle and a cocker spaniel, two like species. When a plant is genetically engineered, in a lab, it is usually with the genes from another species altogether, often with the vehicle for the genetic modification being a virus or bacteria used to “infect” the plant. Clearly not the same thing at all.
There are many foods besides the usual culprits (soy, cotton, canola, corn, sugar beets) that consumers need to be aware of when it comes to GMOs. Here are some examples:
Sweet Corn: Originally most genetically engineered corn was utilized for animal feed, however since 2011 roughly 40% of the sweet corn planted in the U.S. is genetically engineered, a very quiet but marked increase. This includes the corn you might find at supermarkets, farmers’ markets and farm stands. If it isn’t organic or labeled GMO-free, be aware.
Meat. Chicken and Fish: While it’s true that there aren’t any genetically engineered meats or fish on the market, if you aren’t eating 100% grass-fed (beware of grain finished) or 100% organic meat, you’re likely eating GMOs. This is because the animals themselves eat GMO feed. And what the animals eat is passed along the food chain.
Dairy Products: rBGH, or bovine growth hormone, can still be found in many dairy products - such as ice cream, cheese, butter - unless the package is clearly marked “No rBGH.” This, too, is a genetically modified product.
Food allergies occur when the body has a reaction to a novel protein that it doesn’t recognize. Did you know that 89% of GM soy in the U.S. contains foreign genes from bacteria and petunias? With the incidence of food allergies skyrocketing - coincidentally since around the time GMOs started to appear in our food supply - one would think the FDA would step up to the plate to review their policies. At the very least, Americans deserve the long-term testing and research to know the food they eat is safe. The FDA has its own, outdated, agenda when it comes to GMOs. There is a term they use - “G.R.A.S.” or Generally Regarded As Safe - whereas they rely on the research supplied by the producing corporation verifying the safety of a product. This decision has stood since 1992 when it comes to GMOs.
There is a large and increasingly vocal portion of the country that believes genetically engineered foods need to be labeled as such. In the interim, the pro-active “Non-GMO” label has sprung up and it is thriving. With 66% growth in 2012, it is the fastest growing label in the natural food sector, with no signs of abating. While a mere two years ago GMOs were a mere whisper, now you can hear about the issue loud and clear. The challenge is getting the concise information out there to the public. In the meanwhile statewide initiatives to label foods as containing GMOs, here in New Jersey and in over half the other states in the U.S., are moving forward and they will not stop until the job is done.
Author of the Upcoming GMOs: What You Need To Know
May 21, 2014
Actually, a case can be made that they do.
In a February 27 article, Fox News highlights a new study from the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability about staple crop production in the United States midwest. With keywords such as agrobiodiversity, genetic modification, intellectual property and crops, it doesn't take too long to figure out that what we're taking about here are acres of corn and soybeans being subsidized by the Federal government in the American heartland.
Despite other pressing issues that genetically engineered crops bring to the table that are not the topic of this blog post - such as mass spraying of pesticides, mono-cropping and mandatory labeling, to name just a few - the fact that corn and soy are heavily subsidized by the government, and are then used as ingredients in the overwhelming majority of processed foods that we eat absolutely does serve as a contributing factor to the scourge of obesity in this country.
With 88% of the corn in this country genetically modified to either withstand the mass-spraying of pesticides such as glyphosate (Roundup), or contain the pesticide Bt in its DNA, if you eat processed food, or anything with corn syrup, chances are overwhelming that you're eating GMOs. Consider the following quote about high fructose corn syrup from my book, GMOs: What You Need To Know.
"This substance has been linked to the scourges of obesity and type 2 diabetes that plague our society.(4) Shockingly, according to the USDA website outlining the myriad usages for corn, “(g)overnment programs have been instrumental in the development of...HFCS.”(5) All for the expansion of the American corn market."
Furthermore, if you
"...eat processed foods, like cookies, cakes or ice cream...Read the label: if it’s not an organic product, and if it contains corn starch (modified food starch), corn flour, corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), you can almost assume that it was made with genetically engineered corn." (Copyright © 2014 Michele Jacobson, CCN. All rights reserved.)
Can GMOs contribute to weight gain? Since studies show that high fructose corn syrup has been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes, and high fructose corn syrup is made from genetically modified corn - horrifyingly, subsidized by the government - then, yes, I would say they can.
Fox News, I would say you got my attention this time.
The best part about this marketing ploy is that little children will be able to read the letters
G-M-O on the cereal box and ask their parents what they mean. Perhaps General Mills has shot themselves in the foot after all.
Otherwise, it's meaningless.
According to the the General Mill's Cheerios website, Cheerios does not contain any genetically modified ingredients. The primary ingredient in original Cheerios is oats, which is not a genetically modified crop. In addition Cheerios contains small amounts of sugar and corn starch, both of which could be GMO, but in this case, says General Mills, are not. Good for them. So what has changed here, except for the fact that they are now advertising this information?
- They are not getting certified in any way by a third party verification system, such as the NON-GMO Project.
- They freely state that it is possible that the original Cheerios may contain trace amounts of GMOs.
- They are not changing the ingredients - full of GMOs - of any of the other eleven varieties of Cheerios, i.e. Honey Nut Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, Banana Nut Cheerios, etc.
Please also take note on the Cheerios website (link below) that they refer to their belief in the "safety of biotech crops." Does this statement make you have a deep trust for this corporation and their commitment to a world without genetically modified foods?
When General Mills makes a real change and not a savvy advertising pseudo-labeling ploy, I will be impressed. For now, I would love to see them slap the letters G-M-O on their box in any way, shape or form and let those children ask for an answer.
I'd be happy to explain*.
*Sure, it's a great idea to explain GMOs to your kids! Also explain to them that a cereal without GMO ingredients is fine to eat, but make sure to avoid the other eleven varieties of Cheerios. Then perhaps we'll see some real change!
The Cheerios website link: http://cheerios.com/en/Articles/cheerios-and-gmos
You guessed it: biotech is at it again. As the FDA has begun its crack down on trans-fats in America (finally), biotech has announced that it now has a genetically modified soybean that contains oil which mimics the traits of olive oil.
(See NY Times article In a Bean, a Boon to Biotech)
Even beyond GMOs, I have so many issues with this that I don't know where to begin. Let's start with the following quote from the article:
“Monsanto’s beans have a second genetic modification that lowers the level of saturated fats, which are also bad for health.”
First of all, saturated fats are NOT bad for your health, trans-fats are. Saturated fats are natural fats, which your body knows how to assimilate and process. It is an outdated American myth that saturated fats are bad for your health.
Second of all, for Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer to be tampering with the genetic make-up of a whole food such as the soybean in this way is horrifying. Soybean are a major protein source for much of the world, and for vegetarians in particular.
The new GMO soybeans are allegedly to benefit the consumer, as opposed to farmers, as the inherent oil will be "longer-lasting, potentially healthier and free of trans fats." Furthermore, the article states, "It almost mirrors olive oil in terms of the composition of fatty acids."
Wow. Don't throw out your olive oil yet, folks. While I personally don't reach for soybean oil as my cooking or consumption oil of choice, soybean oil in and of itself doesn't contain any trans-fats to begin with. It is only once it goes through the hydrogenation (or partial hydrogenation) process, which is done to increase shelf life in processed foods, that trans-fats are created. This is clearly a move on the part of biotech to capitalize on the FDA's oncoming ban on trans-fats! It's also savvy marketing to use olive oil - the king of healthy oils - as a comparative for health benefits.
The article also states that the new GMO soybean oil will be marketed to restaurants. If restaurants adopt this new GMO oil, then consumers will never even know that they’re eating it! I can see the proud advertising by-line now: “All our frying is done with trans-fat free oils!”
Clever or cunning? You be the judge.
is a Certified Nutritionist and the author of :
GMOs: What's Hidden In Our Food
Just Because You're An American Doesn't Mean You Have To Eat Like One!
Copyright © 2014 Michele Jacobson, CNN. All rights reserved.
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