Insights by Goldie: Genetically engineered animals and drugs in food supply?

by Goldie Caughlan

This article was originally published in November 2008

Election jitters and economic earthquakes have left many of us drained, begging for a break, ready for some time with family and friends during the holiday season. We recoil at having to face more malicious governmental mischief, yet to ignore what’s unfolding now is most unwise.

The clock is ticking and time is very short to respond. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a new guidance for industry titled, “Regulation of Genetically Engineered Animals Containing Heritable rDNA Constructs.” (Note: “heritable rDNA” means the animals can reproduce their engineered traits.)

In 25 cryptic pages, the FDA has created a hellish scenario that will further erode any public or governmental oversight. Its proposal will promote unfettered creation of genetically engineered (GE) animals and fish, whose natural species barriers have been crossed artificially. Many are intended for human food.

The FDA states it will not require labels on foods from these creatures and will take comments only until November 18. This door-slamming attitude toward the public is outrageous but consistent with the FDA’s track record.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has filed another nearly unintelligible, 155-page outline of its regulation and oversight plans for GE crops, including those designed to produce pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals.

As the Sound Consumer has reported before, some of these plants — including common food plants such as rice and barley — already contain human genes; more will. Some could end up in your food.

They’re growing right now in open fields, not laboratories, and the USDA doesn’t think it’s necessary even to notify farmers with traditional crops growing nearby.

The new proposals are couched in words that reveal the USDA’s objective: to further reduce oversight and not label any of these unnatural creations, thereby helping to minimize the regulatory and record-keeping burdens of the “sponsors” (USDA “news-speak” for biotech company or the grower). Read it and weep!

The USDA’s world view clearly does not take a precautionary approach to protecting the environment or us. These potentially are very hazardous creations and, grown in open fields, they’re accidents waiting to happen.

The independent Union of Concerned Scientists, along with numerous other researchers and scientists, gave the USDA clear and cautious counsel in 2007 including safety recommendations for regulating such crops. The USDA has ignored their recommendations.

Deregulation has been the hallmark of the outgoing administration, including the FDA and USDA — manifested by the constant dismissal of independent science and consumers. It demonstrates a profoundly foolhardy disrespect for nature’s natural protection based upon “species barriers.” Is all life now “for sale” — a mere commodity?

We know the FDA and USDA share one goal: to enable genetic modification to advance unrestrained. Decades ago, we heard, “What’s good for GM is good for the nation” — the GM referring to General Motors. Oddly, the phrase now fits the current unquestioning attitude of the Governmental-Industrial Complex — and it’s still a poor premise.

Fact: 80 percent of all biotech traits are owned or co-owned by four firms (Bayer Crop Science, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta) or their subsidiaries. As the FDA and USDA push for fast adoption of the corporate agendas, they’re clearly colluding with the biotech biggies, shaping an unnatural world with unknown consequences.

The average person can feel trumped with so much power against the common good. But at least we still can rail against the machine! Join me in calling out these agencies on these “guidelines” that flout common sense and science.

Both the FDA and USDA documents can seem unfathomable but fortunately, several “interpreters” are at the ready.

Google the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Food & Water Watch for their insights on what is behind these current actions — and what the consequences can be for the safety of our food supply.

Also in this issue

Organic and sustainable: simple words, complex ideas

As encroaching development converts more of Washington’s farmland into houses and shopping malls, we at the PCC Farmland Trust strive to preserve farms for future generations. What exactly do we mean when we use the words organic and sustainable?

Letters to the editor, November 2008

Edmonds fan mail, Aerial spraying of pesticide, Sweeteners in the diet, and more