The Drug Shock of the Year - FDA Approved, But Beware
In a dramatic move that shows that the U.S. FDA is softening its stand on bio-pharmed treatments, the agency has approved the country's first genetically modified plant intended for the treatment of a human disease.
An Israeli firm grew human disease enzymes in carrot cells, and produced a treatment for Gaucher disease that they say shows improvement comparable to a treatment derived from hamster cells. The drug goes by the name Elelyso.
As reported by Popsci, the ability to manipulate the genes of plant cells isn't new, but until now concerns about human biologics have kept them from gaining traction with the FDA. I don't even want to think about the potential ramifications of this decision. Many may not know this, but Monsanto, well-known as the leader in biotechnology and genetically engineered foods, is also invested in the medical industry.
Will Biotech Drugs Become the Next Big Battle?
In 1995, The Upjohn Company—a pharmaceutical company founded in Michigan—merged with the Swedish pharmaceutical and biotech company Pharmacia AB, to form Pharmacia & Upjohn.
In 2000, Pharmacia & Upjohn merged with Monsanto Company, at which time the name was changed to Pharmacia. The drug divisions, including Monsanto's old Searle drug division, were retained in Pharmacia, while the agricultural divisions became a wholly owned subsidiary of Pharmacia.
A short while later, Pharmacia spun off this agricultural/biotech subsidiary into a "new Monsanto" company, with the agreement that the "new" Monsanto would indemnify Pharmacia against certain liabilities that could be incurred from judgments against Solutia—yet another Monsanto-owned company that creates a variety of plastic materials, which was sued by Alabama residents over long-term PCB contamination.
Pfizer then bought Pharmacia 2002, and today also owns the remainder of Upjohn. Bayer has also acquired certain assets.
As you can see, the past and present connections between all of these mega-corporations are dizzying in their complexity.
Monsanto, as a whole, has such a long history of questionable behavior; I shudder to think what might occur once it gets into the game of genetically engineered drug-crops, which is now right around the corner. We already know that coexistence between conventional or organic and genetically engineered crops is impossible, due to the spread of pollen and seed.
And when it comes to the safety of these genetically engineered crops, Phil Angell, Monsanto's director of corporate communications back in 1998 probably expressed it best when he told Michael Pollan that:
"Monsanto should not have to vouch for the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is FDA's job.i"
Monsanto Continues to Intimidate and Bully State Legislators
That safety isn't very high on Monsanto's corporate agenda has been clear from the start, and we're now beginning to experience the ramifications of this attitude, in the form of degradation of the food supply, declining public health, and environmental destruction. Because while the FDA may in principle be charged with assuring safety, the way the approval process of drugs and genetically engineered food ingredients is set up, the system is basically designed to fail in this regard.
Furthermore, the fact that genetically engineered foods or drugs do not require labeling guarantees their expanded use and proliferation without anyone being the wiser. This is not the case in many other countries. In fact, dozens of countries around the world care enough about their citizens' health to either require labeling of genetically engineered foods, or to outright ban them.
Unfortunately, in America, where the people's voices should be heard above all others, all it takes to kill the right to know what you're eating is for Monsanto to threaten a lawsuit...
Connecticut is now the second state in five weeks to drop a GMO labeling provision in proposed legislation after the biotech giant threatened to sue if lawmakers passed the bill.
Last month Vermont succumbed to the same strong-arm tactics. Apparently still stinging from a fight with Monsanto several years ago—when the state tried to stop dairy corporations from marketing milk from cows injected with Bovine Growth Hormone—Vermont legislators tabled voting on their "Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act." In Connecticut, the right-to-know bill's sponsor admitted that the reason the labeling provision was dropped was because the governor feared a lawsuit.
In a recent article in the Digital Journal, Anne Sewell writesii:
"... Rep [Richard] Roy [CT] said, "I feel very strongly that someone or some state has to challenge the use of the Bill of Rights, designed to protect we individuals, from using it to thwart the sharing of information and the subjugation of a whole industry. Residents of more than 50 other countries get simple information saying that GMOs are present in a product. The freest society in the world cannot get that simple sentence."
"... Analiese Paik of Fairfield Green Food Guide asked Rep. Roy why the labeling provision was removed from his bill, the Act Concerning Genetically Engineered Foods. Roy replied that "The labeling provision was eliminated from the bill due to fears that it opened the state up to a lawsuit. The attorneys for the leadership and Governor's office felt that the Constitutional Rights of Monsanto gave them the power to successfully sue the state. Their main duty was to protect the welfare of the state."
Paik's partner in leader Right to Know CT, Tara Cook-Littman, stated, "The constitutional argument is absurd, and everyone knows it. As long as Connecticut law makers had a legitimate state interest that was reasonably related to the labeling of products produced from the process of genetic engineering, the GMO labeling bill would be considered constitutional by any court of law." She added, "It appears that the biotech industry's influence was in place all along, waiting for this tactic to be deployed at the last minute, with no time to argue before the vote."
U.S. Foods Widely Banned from Other Countries
The presence of undisclosed genetically altered ingredients is not the only problem with the US food supply, although it may be one of the most serious. Americans have a long history of trusting government and health officials, and many are now awakening to the disturbing truth that their trust has been sorely misplaced.
If you're wondering how safe your food really is in the U.S., and whether state and federal regulations truly protect you from consuming hazardous materials, you might want to take a look outside the U.S. to see what other countries think of our foodsiii. What you'll find is that more and more U.S. foods are being outright banned from other countries. Most recently, Indonesia became the first country to ban imports of U.S. beef after discovering an American dairy cow infected with mad cow disease. According to Rusman Heriawan, Indonesia's vice agriculture minister, the ban will remain in place until the case has been resolved.
Taiwan had already begun refusing various U.S. meat products, including pork and beef, because they contain a growth-promoting drug, ractopamine, which is banned in 160 countries. The drug comes with the warning "not for use in humans," and it's handled like hazardous waste, yet it's permitted for use in food in America. Other countries all over the world, from the European Union to Saudi Arabia to South America, have also banned foods or food ingredients that typically are allowed in the U.S., such as genetically engineered seeds and plants.
The Lies You've Been Told...
Exposure to genetically modified foods and companion pesticides has been linked to a number of health risks including infertility, neurological disorders, birth defects and cancer. Yet despite all the evidence, the collusion between industry and our political leadership and various regulatory agencies has created a system in which industry interests win at every turn. Until or unless enough Americans recognize this, and not only demand change, but also actually change their own habits, the system will continue unabated.
The first challenge is to realize that you've been lied to. The entire model of genetically engineered crops as a not only viable but preferable food source is based on a series of lies and misconceptions that have enriched a select few at the expense of everyone else. These myths include:
- Genetically engineered foods are equivalent to conventional foods.
This is simply not true, as no conventional food in the history of mankind has ever been able to splice bacteria, viruses or genetic material from unrelated species into itself. For thousands of years, farmers have selected and saved the best seeds, which has led to improved varieties. But never have they been able to cross a plant with an animal, for example. Nature does not allow this sort of trans-genetic transfer.
Gene splicing is an imprecise and unpredictable science, and the potential hazards are enormous. The primary motive behind genetically engineered crops is the ability to patent it and claim ownership of it in perpetuity. And the concept of patenting crops and other foods tells you the truth about whether or not they're really equivalent to conventional foods—you cannot get a patent on something that is too similar to something already in existence.
- Genetically engineered crops were created for an altruistic purpose; to save a starving world from hunger by increasing yield.
Even the statistics from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) demonstrate that this is a promise that cannot be fulfilled. Genetically engineered crops do not produce higher yields. In fact, numerous studies have shown that their yield is lower than that of conventional or organic yields. There are literally hundreds of studies in the developing world demonstrating that organic farming, specifically, outproduces chemical farming and genetically engineered crops by a factor of anywhere between 10-100 to 1.
Genetically engineering food crops is but a tactic to starve the world into submission. And, it guarantees outrageous profits for perpetuity as farmers world-wide must depend on giant transnational corporations in order to eat, and there's nothing altruistic about that.
- Genetically engineered foods are more nutritious.
No patented GE crop has ever made the commercial claim to be more nutritious, so this idea was popularized without any factual support whatsoever. Agricultural scientist are, however, warning that genetically engineered crops are nutritionally inferior to both organics and conventionally-grown crops.
An Urgent Call to Action
California is now the new battleground, where extensive polling shows that 90 percent of California voters favor labeling of genetically engineered foods, and where labeling advocates recently delivered one million signatures to place Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act on the Ballot for November 6.
Environmental groups across the country are helping to make this happen, and have launched a "Drop the Money Bomb on Monsanto" campaign to fund the fight against the biotech industry, should they threaten another lawsuit, and to counteract the propaganda put out by Monsanto to dissuade voters from voting it into law. They have deep pockets, and will do everything they can to defeat our attempt to get genetically engineered foods labeled, so I urge you to make a donation to the Money Bomb Against Monsanto campaign, no matter what state you live in, because if California passes this law, its impact will reverberate across the entire nation.
Donations can be made online, via regular snail mail, and over the phone.
If Politicians Won't Do it, Will YOU Stand Up to Protect Your Child's Future?
People are finally waking up to the reality that the big corporations that control everything are NOT invincible. When consumers get together, organize, and use the tools of democracy that are still available to us, we can force the will of the people on the politicians. According to Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association:
"It's not going to be easy. We can't afford to lose this strategic battle; we've got to win. We've got to raise millions of dollars. Even more importantly in California, we have to convince six or seven million Californians to go to the voting booth on November 06 and vote "Yes" for labeling of genetically engineered foods."
I hope you'll join us in this campaign, either by volunteering your time in California, or by making a financial contribution. Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now, was instrumental in getting Barrack Obama to make his promise to label genetically engineered foods while he was still a Senator and a hopeful Presidential candidate. He made this now-famous pledge at the Iowa Farmers Union Presidential Summit in 2007.
"We recognized it was a unique moment, and a unique opportunity to have... a Senator of his caliber... on video saying that they would label genetically engineered foods," Dave says. "He didn't say it in Berkeley. He didn't say it in Brooklyn. He came to Iowa, the heartland of genetically engineered food production, and made it in front of farmers. He got applause. ... We're certainly looking forward to the day that he does label genetically engineered foods."
"The most important change in American history has always come from the grassroots," he says. "It's always risen from the bottom up. It happens faster and it lasts longer when it happens that way. I think today, Americans are really awakening to the fact of how harmful the industrial food supply is to their health, to their environment, in all aspects in life, but even more important their democracy. If we don't stand up now, we'll lose it permanently."
The initiative also needs more volunteers. Pamm Larry, the California grandmother who started this initiative, is correct when she says we need to reach every single California community—large and small. So I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can. Be assured that what happens in California will affect the remainder of the U.S. states, so please support this important state initiative, even if you do not live there!
- If you live in California and want to get involved, please visit the California Right To Know website at carighttoknow.org and sign up for emails, received Facebook and Twitter news items. One of the most important things you can do is spread the word, and the easiest way of doing this is by sharing these messages.
- If you'd like to help volunteer for grass roots events, please join and read more at Pamm Larry's LabelGMOs.org's "Spread the Word!" page.
- Whether you live in California or not, please donate money to this historic effort through the Organic Consumers Fund.
- Talk to organic producers, retailers, and stores and ask them to actively support the California Ballot. It may be the only chance we have to label genetically engineered foods. Businesses may contact campaign manager Gary Ruskin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For timely updates, please join the Organic Consumers Association on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.
There's great hope. We know that the vast majority of people want labeling, and supporting the California ballot initiative will allow for the democratic process to occur to give all Americans a choice. The consequences of each individual person's actions are profound! So, please, share this message with others. Put it on your Facebook page. Put it on your blog. Give it to your friends or relatives. Then encourage them to likewise participate and volunteer. Because collectively, as a group, we can have a profound impact not only on our own lives, but on the lives of our children and future descendants.