Tag Archives: ge

Senator Pat Roberts Introduces New GMO Labeling Legislation

Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has introduced new legislation that would prohibit states from creating their own labeling laws for foods that contain genetically modified or engineered ingredients.

Genetically modified or engineered seeds are engineered to have certain traits, such as resistance to herbicides. The majority of the United States’ corn and soybean crops are now GE, including a large portion that is used for animal feed.

The Hill reported that a draft of Roberts’ bill requires the Secretary of Agriculture to create a “national voluntary labeling standard” for GE foods. The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee will review the bill on Thursday.

“I will continue to work with members of the Agriculture Committee on potential amendments. However, we are out of time,” Roberts said, according to The Hill.  “The time to act is now. Negotiations will continue in an effort to reach committee agreement.”

Roberts’ bill is similar to the controversial Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which passed the House in June 2015. That bill was also known as the “DARK” (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act by critics because the law would have effectively nullified GE labeling measures, such as the bill recently passed in Vermont. The Vermont law is scheduled to take effect July 2016. Maine and Connecticut have also passed laws requiring labeling, but those measures will not go into effect until bordering states also pass legislation.

Similar to the new bill, the “DARK Act” would have created a federal voluntary standard for GE labeling and block mandatory labeling efforts by states. The bill received support from a coalition of groups representing growers and the food industry who said it wouldprevent a costly and confusing patchwork of state labeling laws from taking effect next year and spreading across the country.”

Lisa Archer, the program director for Friends of the Earth Food and Technology, claimed in a statement provided to The Hill that the new bill “is a desperate attempt by the junk food and chemical industries to keep Americans in the dark about what we feed our families.”

“93 percent of Americans want GMO labeling and this effort to try and stop the consumer demand for transparency that has shaken Big Food to its core will ultimately fail,” said Archer.

Individuals on other side of the debate expressed approval for the new legislation.

“We are very pleased that Chairman Roberts has scheduled a markup on legislation that meets an urgent need to avoid the inevitable chaos the food industry faces if left without a federal government-created standard definition that eliminates multiple state approaches,” Jennifer Hatcher, a spokeswoman for the Food Marketing Institute, said according to a statement given to The Hill. “Without immediate action, costs in the supply chain will escalate rapidly and once the resources are expended, consumer costs will inevitably rise.”

Health advocates and anti-GE, pro-labeling activists are preparing for another battle centered around the controversial technology. If the new bill passes, states would lose the ability to decide whether they would like to mandate labels or make the labeling voluntary. By creating a one-size fits all, centralized solution, the federal government will take away states’ and localities’ ability to make decisions which are in line with the needs of the local environment and community.

In 2015, the critics of the “DARK Act” were able to force the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition & Forestry to hold a hearing titled Agriculture Biotechnology: A Look at Federal Regulation and Stakeholder Perspectives.

The committee heard testimony from several speakers representing farmers, the GMO lobby, and consumer groups. Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency also testified. However, the hearing was criticized for being one-sided and favoring corporations who would directly benefit from the passage of the bill.

As Reuters reported, “the Consumers Union and five other consumer organizations sent a letter to the Senate committee complaining that the lineup of speakers was not balanced and did not include a consumer representative.”

Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union, said “Time and again, a large majority of consumers have expressed strong support for GMO labeling.”

Yurok Tribe of California Passes Ordinance Banning Genetically Engineered Foods

Klamath, CA. — In early December, the Yurok Tribal Council unanimously voted to enact the Yurok Tribe Genetically Engineered Organism (“GEO”) Ordinance, according to a press release from the tribe. The Tribal GEO Ordinance prohibits the propagation, raising, growing, spawning, incubating, or releasing genetically engineered organisms within the Tribe’s territory and declares the Yurok Reservation to be a GMO-free zone.

In their monthly newsletter the Yurok wrote, “The Tribe’s position is to support of the protection of Klamath River Wild Salmon and indigenous plants and berries. The Tribe has taken a firm stand against the use of Genetically Modified salmon for any purpose, as it is a threat to the health and wellbeing of our community. An ordinance about GEOs would further the Tribe’s interest in protecting Wild Salmon and against any genetic alteration to Klamath River Salmon.”

Violations of the ordinance will be enforced through the Yurok Tribal Court.

“It is the inherent sovereign right of the Yurok People to grow plants from natural traditional seeds and to sustainably harvest plants, salmon and other fish, animals, and other life-giving foods and medicines, in order to sustain our families and communities as we have successfully done since time immemorial; our Court will enforce any violations of these inherent, and now codified, rights,” Yurok Chief Judge Abby Abinanti stated.

The Yurok People live on the Klamath River in northern California. The tribe has relied upon the salmon for generations and are dependent upon the health of the wild, native Klamath River salmon species and other traditional food resources which could be threatened by the introduction of genetically engineered species.

James Dunlap, Chairman of the Yurok Tribe, said his people “have the responsibility to care for our natural world, including the plants and animals we use for our foods and medicines. This Ordinance is a necessary step to protect our food sovereignty and to ensure the spiritual, cultural and physical health of the Yurok People.” Dunlap said the Yurok are taking a stand against GE food production systems because they are “inherently dependent on the overuse of herbicides, pesticides and antibiotics, are not our best interest.”

In April 2013, the Yurok Tribe also passed a resolution opposing genetically engineered salmon. In November 2015, after years of controversy surrounding the safety of GE salmon, the FDA announced that the AquAdvantage salmon is as safe and nutritious to eat as the non-genetically engineered variety.

The FDA stated, “The FDA scientists rigorously evaluated extensive data submitted by the manufacturer, AquaBounty Technologies, and other peer-reviewed data, to assess whether AquAdvantage salmon met the criteria for approval established by law.”

The FDA says the data shows “that the inserted genes remained stable over several generations of fish, that food from the GE salmon is safe to eat by humans and animals, that the genetic engineering is safe for the fish, and the salmon meets the sponsor’s claim about faster growth.”

Despite the FDA’s decision, AquaBounty has faced criticism and lawsuits for their products. After the decision, The Guardian reported that several environmental groups are suing the Canadian government in an attempt to end the production of GE salmon eggs. The lawsuit claims AquaBounty is operating a “huge live experiment” with the genes of the wild Atlantic salmon. The Canadian government previously gave AquaBounty permission to create GE salmon eggs in Canada and ship them to Panama to be grown before selling them on the market in the U.S. and Canada.

In addition to the GE ban from the Yurok Tribe, Kroger and Safeway, the nation’s two largest grocery chains, announced they would not sell the genetically engineered salmon. The two chains joined Target, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s in their opposition to the GE salmon.

EPA Proposes Ban on Common Pesticide

Last Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new proposal which would ban the use of chlorpyrifos on citrus fruits, almonds and other crops. Chlorpyrifos is a common insecticide which is used on a number of crops that also includes oranges, apples, cherries, grapes, broccoli and asparagus.

The Associated Press reports:

“The pesticide, in use since 1965, has sickened dozens of farmworkers in recent years. Traces have been found in waterways, threatening fish, and regulators say overuse could make targeted insects immune to the pesticide. U.S. farms use more than 6 million pounds of the chemical each year – about 25 percent of it in California.”

The EPA stated that a recent analysis did not show risks from exposure to chlorpyrifos in food, but combined with estimates for exposure from drinking water, the “EPA cannot conclude that the risk from aggregate exposure meets the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act safety standard.”

The agency will take public comments on the proposed ban for at least two months. A final ruling is expected in December 2016 with the rule going into effect in 2017.

In the early 2000’s the EPA banned home use of chlorpyrifos and in 2012 placed “no-spray” buffer zones around schools and other sensitive areas.

The AP reported the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a federal lawsuit asking for a national ban on chlorpyrifos, citing evidence the chemical interferes with brain development of fetuses, infants and children.

Veena Singla, a scientist with NRDC’s health and environment program, said that the proposal “is a huge step in the right direction, but we think there’s enough evidence to ban all its uses now.”

The proposal from the EPA came just days after a researcher with the United States Department of Agriculture filed a whistleblower complaint alleging his supervisors suspended him in retaliation for his research on pesticides. The complaint follows calls for investigation of both the USDA and the EPA.

The Anti Media reported that Jonathan Lundgren, an entomologist and 11-year veteran of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, filed the complaint with the federal Merit Systems Protection Board after his supervisors allegedly began to “impede or deter his research and resultant publications.” Lundgren is well-known in the scientific community for previously alleging that the USDA attempted to prevent him from speaking about his research for political reasons.

Lundgren previously published a study that found soybean seeds pre-treated with neonicotinoid pesticides “offer little benefit to soybean producers.” He also served as a peer reviewer in a report published by the Center for Food Safety. That study found further evidence that neonicotinoids adversely affect bees.

Although Lundgren’s work is examining a different class of pesticides, his story highlights a dangerous trend around the science of pesticides: the suppression of research and retaliation against those who challenge the safety of pesticides.

In early May of this year, Truth In Media reported that 25 organizations representing farm workers, food safety organizations, and the environment issued a letter to officials with the USDA and EPA. They called for an investigation into claims that scientists are facing pressure and retaliation for research that presents the controversial neonicotinoid insecticide in a negative light.

A number of pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides have now been linked to health problems in animals and humans, as well as environmental degradation.

In March of this year it was reported that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published a report on the herbicide glyphosate which concluded that there was “limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”  The researchers found “convincing evidence that glyphosate can also cause cancer in laboratory animals.” The report points out that the EPA had originally classified glyphosate as possibly carcinogenic to humans in 1985.

The IARC Working Group evaluated the original EPA findings and more recent reports before concluding “there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” Despite the WHO’s findings, the EPA approved Monsanto’s use of glyphosate as recently as 2013.

Since the IARC’s rulings, Monsanto has faced a wave of lawsuits as personal injury lawyers are now looking for plaintiffs who have been harmed by the corporations products. 

The rise in the use of pesticides and herbicides comes with the increased use of genetically engineered or genetically modified crops. In September 2014, I wrote about the USDA’s decision to approve GE corn and soy and how this decision would lead to an increase in pesticide use.

This happens because the food products being approved by the government are engineered to resist widely-used chemicals such as glyphosate. This has led to an increase in “super-weeds” which are immune to the effects of glyphosate. This leads to an increase in spraying of these chemicals, as well as newer, stronger chemicals to fight the super weeds.

This cycle of spraying, and nature responding and adapting, will likely continue as the USDA recently approved another GE corn from Monsanto. Fellow bio-tech giant Syngenta is also applying for approval of a glyphosate-resistant GE corn. The USDA’s preliminary findings stated the risk of herbicide-resistant weeds will be an ongoing problem as long as herbicides are used.

The EPA’s latest proposal to ban the use of chlorpyrifos may indicate a shift towards more nuanced policies on herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides.