Genetically Engineered Salmon

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is not known for good decisions, but they got this one right. A couple of weeks ago they denied the FDA’s latest attempt to hide thousands of pages of key government documents related to the agency’s approval of genetically engineered (GE) salmon for human consumption.

That’s right. You read it correctly. Genetically engineered salmon are now destined for a place on your grocers counter and you will never know it. The FDA did not want the public to know details of the approval process gone through by the agency charged with the responsibility of keeping our food supply safe. Trust us, they said. The FDA did not want you to know why they approved an engineered salmon that contains DNA from the Atlantic salmon, the deep water ocean eelpout, and the Pacific Chinook salmon. This would be the first time any genetically engineered animal has been approved for commercial sale and ultimate human consumption.

What is the big deal about this fish? It is different. The GE version is intended to grow faster than conventionally farmed or wild-caught salmon. The reason: new DNA has been engineered in. The new DNA is a growth hormone gene that is turned on all the time. The GE salmon is claimed to get to commercial size in half the time. Further, it is claimed by the FDA to not be significantly different from wild-caught or farm raised salmon. The truth: it may look the same from the outside, but it is different genetically.
One big concern is if the GE fish were to escape into the wild. It could threaten wild salmon populations by out-competing them for scarce resources and habitat, by mating with endangered salmon species, and by introducing new diseases. The FDA has been heavily criticized for failing to fully evaluate these potential impacts. The developers claim these concerns are meaningless because the GE fish are to be sterile females all raised in confinement tanks. Even that raises additional questions. How are the GE fish becoming 100% female?

In short, the FDA wants to hide. The pubic has a right to know in detail how the agency came to its approval decision for genetically engineered salmon, especially because the FDA’s approach will likely serve as a precedent for the assessment of future GE food animals. The FDA is funded by tax dollars which means the records they create can and should be available to the public and to citizens seeking to know all. The only exceptions should be withholding information critical to national security.

Under the court ruling, the FDA is required to fully complete the record with all relevant documents regarding its approval of genetically engineered salmon. In this case, the public right to know is being protected. It is vital all government agencies get the message hiding is not acceptable. Are you listening EPA and USDA?

Poison Time

When driving through the countryside this week on my way to Marion, I came across a sight I hate to see. It was an agriculture tank spray rig with 16 foot booms extended over rows of soy beans. The multiple nozzles on those booms were spewing glyphosate (Roundup) toxic poison. The odor of that herbicide filled the air. You have seen these rigs on the road as they move from field to field. You know, they are the ones that sit way off the ground so high you wonder if you could drive your car under the middle of them to get on your way as they poke down the road.
What you may not realize is they are the purveyors of death. The poisons they spread are supposed to only kill any “weeds” between the rows of soy beans or corn. What is the problem with that you may say. The problem is that this chemical called a herbicide or pesticide causes cancer in humans. This was the determination of the World Health Organization International Agency on Cancer Research. They call it a “probable human cancinogen”. This is the highest designation they can give using only laboratory animals for testing. Pretty tough to use humans. Of course, Monsanto and other companies who now manufacture glyphosate deny this. Some countries have banned its use.
The truth is glyphosate does kill plants. It also kills soil organisms necessary to keep our agriculture lands healthy. It kills life in streams and rivers when it is washed into them by rains and runoff. Think about it. In our neck of the woods, there is virtually no field that does not have tile under the soil to take away soaking rain water along with any fertilizers and pesticides that have been applied to the land. Where does this go? We have a dead zone over 150 miles in radius at the mouth of the Mississippi river as it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
And what else? Roundup or glyphosate is used on genetically engineered corn and soy beans. The corn and soy have been genetically modified so they can withstand massive doses of pesticide and live while all vegetation around is supposed to die. Two problems: this has been going on so long now the weeds that were supposed to die are becoming immune to glyphosate. Answer: add more toxic chemicals like 2,4,D; a component of Agent Orange. Or add dicamba, another nasty pesticide that has a habit of not staying where it is applied. The other problem: the chemicals follow the crop to your dinner table. It is almost certain now that if you were tested for glyphosate, you would test positive for it in your body. That stuff is everywhere. Take a look at your local box store shelves as you enter.
But there is trouble for the manufacturers of glyphosate. Multiple law suits have already been filed by people who believe their cancers have been caused by this pesticide. Answer for you: DON’T use it. Stay away from it.

Mitch Daniels and GMOs

[Purdue President Mitch Daniels on February 25th gave a talk to the Agriculture Outlook Forum meeting in Arlington, VA. The thrust of his talk was that any who do not accept genetic engineering of crops are anti-science, ignorant, and immoral. My response to him is below.]
President Daniels:
I was shocked when I read the Wall Street Journal article about your talk to the Agriculture Outlook Forum in Arlington, VA; “Mitch Daniels on Anti-GMO Cruelty”. Your conclusions about genetically engineered crops and foods could have come right out of the playbook of any of the large chemical/seed corporations public relations departments.
In my opinion, the way biotechnology is currently being used in agriculture is both risky and reckless. It is risky for human health, for livestock, and for the environment. The primary reason for GE crops to date has been to allow them to be massively dosed with pesticide that kills surrounding “weeds” but does not kill the crop. The principle pesticide, glyphosate, has been determined to be carcinogenic. We spray it everywhere. All kinds of problems and questions are emerging regarding the chemicals and the genetically engineered crops that become either feed or food.
I have included with this letter a document to read. Please note it is extensively documented. In addition, Dr. Don Huber, Purdue professor emeritus, has it right in spite of the fact he has been called, “an embarrassment to Purdue” by one ranking academic at Purdue. If you have not, I suggest you read some of what Dr. Huber has written as well.
Large corporate agriculture is headed in the wrong direction. It is a train wreck waiting to happen. Many in Europe have already recognized this. It is encouraging to know that there are some at Purdue that know this as well; I have heard them.
Purdue does have an opportunity to lead. It is my hope it leads in directions healthier for people and the environment.
Sincerely,
Kent H. Blacklidge
Past Publisher/ The Kokomo Tribune
Purdue Degrees:
Ph.D. Genetics
MS Aquatic Toxicology and Fish Biology
MS Conservation of Natural Resources
BS Industrial Management
Note: the document included with the Daniels letter is titled, “10 Reasons we don’t need GM foods”. It is available in full at www.gmwatch.org/files/10-reasons-we-dont-need-GM-foods.pdf
 

Vermont in Your Kitchen

[Below is a letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal in response to an editorial  in the WSJ on March 7th opposing the labeling of genetically engineered foods]
Editor….
The Vermont law requiring labeling of all foods containing genetically engineered ingredients goes into effect on July 1st this year. You oppose it. Your editorial on March 7th could have been written by the public relations department of any of the giant chemical/seed corporations. The problem is that it contains just plain false information.
You said, “No agricultural innovation has been more maligned than GMOs, though the technology has proven safe, reliable, affordable and good for the environment”. None of that is true. The technology has not been proven safe. It is haphazard, reckless, and risky. The techniques are crude and potentially very disruptive to native genomes with potentially catastrophic consequences to human health and the environment. To now, the primary reason for GE corn and soy (the major crops) has been to allow them to be massively dosed with glyphosate or other pesticides without killing the crop but killing all vegetation around it. Now glyphosate has been determined to be carcinogenic. Pesticide residues follow the crop to livestock and to the dinner table. Studies have shown serious health consequences to livestock fed genetically engineered feed. So, there are serious safety issues about the genetically engineered crops themselves and as a result of the pesticides found with them.
As a past daily newspaper publisher and as a genetic scientist, I am an adamant believer in the right of the public to know all that is involved in the raising and production of the food they put on their families tables. It is the right of people to make that decision. It is not the right of the chemical/seed companies and corporate farmers to make decisions about what to tell and what not to tell in secret.
Over 60 countries world wide made the decision to either ban or label genetically engineered foods. Several now are considering banning genetically engineered crops altogether. Of those who did adopt genetically engineered crops and used the pesticides designed for them, many are seeing very serious health issues in their populations, particularly among farm workers. I add that over 60 countries cannot be wrong.
The WSJ needs to do more homework. The bill now in the US Senate should never see the light of day. As you concluded… “let the consumers decide what to eat”. Vermont leads the way.

Spring is Coming

It is only February, but soon the countryside will be filled with tractors plowing and planting crops for this year. About all that will be seen from horizon to horizon are fields dedicated to growing genetically modified, or genetically engineered, corn and soybeans. The final destinations for these crops following harvest this fall will be livestock feed and, in one form or another, food for our tables. No one will know that though because none will be labeled, “GMO”, or genetically modified.
That label is required for GMO’s in over 60 countries worldwide. These include all of Europe, Australia, Japan, Russia and dozens of others. Some countries ban genetically modified foods altogether. One has to wonder if other countries know something we don’t. The big seed and chemical companies do not want labels. They have successfully stopped labeling in the United States so far. They do not want people to know what is in the food they eat. It is a secret to be kept by them only.
There are many questions concerning genetically modified foods and their long term safety for people and the environment. More and more evidence is accumulating saying all is not well. All is not well for people and animals that eat these foods. All is not well for the natural environment and the genetic contamination GMOs bring. All is not well with the use of toxic chemical poisons, herbicides and pesticides, used on the crops or in the case of GMO corn with the pesticide that each and every cell in the plant produces on its own — and that wind up every corn kernel. All is not well with the pesticide residues on harvested crops. All is not well. But all that is to be kept secret, too.
The historical record shows that even the scientists in the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) were concerned about the safety of genetically modified crops over 20 years ago. That did not matter because the people that approved them were political appointees. One key appointee at the FDA was an attorney for a firm doing work for Monsanto before he came to the FDA. Although he has been in and out of the FDA and Monsanto more than once, he is even now in a key food safety position at the FDA in the Obama administration.
Many states have had GMO labeling legislation introduced. The most visible one was California. The big agriculture and food corporations spent about $45 million on a publicity campaign to narrowly defeat Proposition 37 there. That is a lot of money. The private citizens who believe they have a right to know what is in their food could not match that kind of steamrolling propaganda effort. One wonders what there is to hide if that kind of money is spent to defeat a law that would simply tell people what is in their food.
This is reminiscent of the tobacco companies that kept people in the dark for decades about the bad long term health effects of smoking. The corporate executives even lied to Congress. The largest GMO seed and chemical corporation that wants us to trust them is the one that gave us DDT, Dioxin, PCBs, Agent Orange and more. Do you trust them?

GMO labeling — again!

In a Tribune “Sound Off” letter on September 24, the Indiana Soybean Alliance and Indiana Corn Growers Association came out as strong advocates of HR 1599 (now in the Senate), the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act”. It is anything but that. These groups repeated almost word for word the message by the Indiana Farm Bureau in the Tribune on August 14. The message could well have been crafted by the same public relations department of any of several large chemical/seed companies, processed food producers or corporate agriculture. The message is misleading at best and lies at worst
They claim the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences and over 2,000 peer-reviewed studies, have concluded that “genetically modified foods are safe for human consumption”. They have done no such thing. There have been no long term human health studies conducted by independent researchers. Studies with research animals, mostly in other countries, have shown results for concern.
The Soybean Alliance and the Corn Growers go on to talk about the altering of crops and livestock over thousands of years in an attempt to lull us into the belief genetic engineering is no different than improvement by selection of the best plants or by hybridization. I assure you genetic engineering is nothing like either of these. Neither selection nor hybridization violates biological barriers that have existed since the origin of life. There is risk in doing that.
Then, pesticides. I challenge you to look at the use of the primary pesticide used on genetically engineered crops: glyphosate (commonly, Roundup). They claim pesticide use is down when it has skyrocketed. The World Health Organization has declared glyphosate to be a carcinogen (causes cancer). We spray that chemical all over the place on corn, soy beans, and more. In the near future, we are to be blessed with crops that can withstand 2,4,D and dicamba; even more toxic chemicals that follow the crop to the dinner table. A primary component of Agent Orange was 2,4,D. We know what that did to thousands of veterans.
The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act would void all action taken by any state to require labeling. It puts all authority into the hands of the Federal Drug Administration that has failed us already. To our detriment, decisions about genetically engineered crops and foods have been made by political appointees rather than FDA scientists. No food currently on the market would be required to be labeled. Labeling is required in 64 other countries, so it can be done. And there does not have to be a patchwork of food labeling laws. What is needed is for the federal government to require labeling of GMOs uniformly across the United States. It is the right of people to know what is in food and how it is produced. Secrecy is not the answer.
It is not the anti-GMO groups that are waging a misinformation campaign. It is big chemical/seed, corporate agriculture, and large food processors. Those that till the land will someday come to realize that.

The DARK Act coming

[What is written below is a response to a column in the Kokomo Tribune written by Isabella Chism, second vice president of the Indiana Farm Bureau. Her column was also published as a reader letter in the Kokomo Perspective.]
Isabella Chism’s column in the August 14th Kokomo Tribune about GMOs and advocating passage by the United States Senate (Act already passed the House of Representatives) of HR 1599 concerning GMOs was certainly interesting. The only problem is that it was chocked full of false or misleading information.
The Act she references is titled, “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act”. It is anything but that. The only parties benefiting from this legislation are the giant food processing corporations and the giant chemical/seed corporations; the very ones I do not trust to have the public’s interest and health at heart. Bottom line profit dollars drive them.
Let me explain. This Act silences any legislation passed by states regarding the labeling of foods containing ingredients from genetically engineered crops, largely corn and soy beans at present. It puts all authority for labeling into the hands of the federal agency that has already failed the public, the FDA. It was not the scientists in the FDA who failed us; it was the political appointees who overrode the scientists concerns. Under this Act, no food currently on the market would be required to be labeled.
Some 64 countries worldwide require foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled as containing such. This includes China and Russia and all of the European Union countries and more. The citizens in those countries wanted to know what was in the foods they purchase and feed their families so they can make personal choices. In the United States, the move is to secrecy. Sixty-four other countries cannot be wrong. The USA is one country that is…. at the behest of food, big agriculture, and chemical/seed companies. As a past newspaper publisher, I vehemently object. I hold the strong belief people have the right to know what is in food and how it is produced; no secrets.
Ms. Chism states “we can grow more crops on less land using fewer pesticides and less water and fuel”. This is blatantly false. For example, use of the primary pesticide, glyphosate (typically Roundup) has skyrocketed in recent years. The reason for genetically engineered corn and soy beans in the first place was to enable those crops to withstand massive doses of glyphosate and live while the weeds around them die. That is it. There is no benefit to the consumer who shops at the local grocery store.
The World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer has recently declared glyphosate to be a “probable human carcinogen”. In short, it causes cancer. Residues of this pesticide follow the crops from field to the dinner table. Glyphosate is sprayed everywhere. Wouldn’t you like to know what poison is on your plate?
Glyphosate is becoming less and less effective with the emergence of resistant weeds. What we have to look forward to next are genetically engineered crops able to withstand massive doses of 2,4,D (an Agent Orange component) and dicamba, two even more toxic poisons that will follow food to the dinner table.
Ms. Chism states the FDA, USDA, AMA, National Academy of Sciences, World Health Organization, and dozens of other scientific organizations have confirmed that GMOs are as safe for human consumption as non-GMO products. They have done no such thing. There have been no long term human safety studies conducted by independent scientists. Animal studies, mostly in other countries, have shown cause for significant concern. I already stated the WHO Cancer Agency just recently determined the primary pesticide used on GMOs (genetically engineered crops) causes cancer. The AMA sits the fence. The FDA has been politically manipulated. I could go on.
Ms. Chism writes about grapes, tangelos, broccoli and many other “modified foods” and how she has fed her family with these. She also states farmers have changed the genetic makeup of all crops grown since domestic agriculture began including organic and heirloom seeds. She wants us to believe that today’s genetic engineering of plants and animals is the same as has been going on in agriculture for centuries. Again, blatantly wrong. The technology required to transfer a gene from one organism to another is nothing like that used to select plants with desirable traits, then grow them. It is nothing like what is required to develop plant hybrids. What genetic engineering of plants does is violate biological barriers that have existed for eons in ways that are unpredictable, risky, and reckless. Her grapes, tangelos, and broccoli are not genetically engineered as the term is defined in science or molecular biology today. As one with advanced university degrees from Purdue in both toxicology and genetics, I tell you straight out that this technology is far from precise or outcomes predictable. What is predictable is that there is risk of new allergens, toxins, and disease causing rogue proteins. I think you have a right to know that.
Another reason I find Ms. Chism’s article interesting is that she is the second vice president of the Indiana Farm Bureau. This already is cause for rising of eyebrows. Her article could have been written by the public relations department of any of the giant chemical/seed companies. It is the party line. The problem is that much of that line is false. I recommend to any interested a book written a few years ago called, “Uncertain Peril”, by Claire Hope Cummings. She details the coming of genetic engineering in agriculture, how it happened and what risks are presented in much more detail than I can write here.
Finally, contrary to Ms. Chism’s urgings, I urge Senators Coats and Donnelly vote “NO” on the Senate version of HR 1599. I urge them to support labeling of genetically engineered foods. I urge them to support the public right to know what is in food and how it is produced. No secrets. No lies. If this bill passes Congress, I urge President Obama to veto it.