Peak & Prairie
December 1999 / January 2000
Unlabeled, Untested and You’re Eating It
You have the right to know if your baked potato contains bacteria genes...or if the tomato in your salad has genes of viruses spliced in. But at the very place where you encounter genetically engineered (GE) products — your local grocery store — there is silence.
Though other countries now label biotech foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still does not require labels or safety tests.
Are these unlabeled foods dangerous? Nobody knows. FDA refuses to require any safety testing of genetically engineered foods. This, despite the fact that there is significant scientific evidence that inserting novel genes into foods can sometimes create dangerous toxins. For example, the genetically engineered food suplement L-tryptophan is suspected as a possible cause for thousands of illnesses and deaths several years ago. Failure to require testing or labeling of GE foods has made millions of consumers into guinea pigs, unknowingly testing the safety of dozens of gene-altered products.
Opinion polls consistently show that more than 90 percent of Americans support the labeling of genetically engineered foods. A 1999 Time poll revealed that close to 60 percent would avoid such foods if they were labeled. And last year more than 280,000 angry consumers protested the Clinton administration’s proposal on organic food standards that would have allowed genetically engineered foods to be certified as “organic.”
By its policy of “no labeling” of GE foods, the U.S. has become a rogue nation. The European Union has passed a law that requires labeling of genetically engineered foods. Canada and the European Union have banned the use of genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in the production of milk and dairy products. But the Clinton administration, the FDA and biotech food companies continue to stonewall the American public.
The following is a list of several potential dangers from the genetic engineering of foods. While there have been no tests so far conclusively establishing that genetically engineered foods are harmful to humans, the potential dangers are significant enough to mandate long-term independent testing of GE food products before release into supermarkets.
Toxicity — According to some FDA scientists, the genetic engineering of food may bring “some undesirable effects such as increased levels of known naturally occurring toxicants, appearance of new, not previously identified toxicants, increased capability of concentrating toxic substances from the environment (e.g., pesticides or heavy metals), and undesirable alterations in the levels of nutrients.”
Allergic Reaction — FDA scientists also warn that genetically engineered foods could “produce a new protein allergen” or “enhance the synthesis of existing plant food allergens.” And a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that when a gene from a Brazil nut was engineered into soybeans, people allergic to nuts had serious reactions.
Antibiotic Resistance — Many GE foods are modified with antibiotic resistant genes; people who eat them may become more susceptible to bacterial infections. Commenting on this problem, the British Medical Association said that antibiotic resistance is “one of the major public human health threats that will be faced in the 21st century.”
Cancer — European scientists have also found that dairy products from animals treated with bovine growth hormone (rBGH) contain an insulin-like growth factor that may increase the risk of breast cancer, as well as prostate and colon cancer.
Immuno-Suppression – Twenty-two leading scientists recently declared that animal test results linking genetically engineered foods to immuno-suppression are valid.
Unlabeled genetically engineered foods pose more than just health threats. For millions of people, the consumption of GE foods may violate their religious and ethical principles. For example, vegetarians try to avoid all animal food, and Jews and Muslims have rigid dietary laws against eating certain animals.
And what of the suffering of genetically altered animals? One GE “super pig” was unable to walk or stand. A GE “super salmon” had a monster head and couldn’t swim, eat or breathe properly. There are hundreds of such outcomes.
There are still broader ethical concerns. More than two dozen genes from human beings have already been engineered into various animals. If we eat them, can we call it cannibalism?
What You Can Do
First, clip out the list of GE foods, take it with you to your supermarket and discuss it with the management. Second, buy certified organic foods, whenever possible. Third, support the movement demanding long-term independent safety testing and labeling of genetically engineered foods. Inquire with the organizations below about participating in legal actions, petitioning of public officials, and public protests. For more information, please call us at the number below.
Center for Food Safety
Foundation on Economic Trends
Food First / Institute for Food & Development Policy
Friends of the Earth
Council for Responsible Genetics
International Center for Technology Assessment
Organic Consumers Association
Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy
Mothers for Natural Law
Consumer’s Choice Council
Food & Water
International Forum on Food and Agriculture
Pesticide Action Network
U.S. Public Interest Research Group
Center for Ethics and Toxics
Council of Canadians
Mothers & Others for a Livable planet
International Society for Ecology and Culture
Signers are all part of a coalition of more than 60 non-profit organizations that favor democratic, localized, ecologically sound alternatives to current practices and policies.
For more information, please contact:
Turning Point Project, 310 D St. NE, Washington, DC 20002 1-800-249-8712 * www.turnpoint.org * email: email@example.com
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